City Council faces land battle for west Provo grocery store

The Provo City Council passed an ordinance on Feb. 2 to rezone 11 acres of land owned partially by Smith’s in order to allow the city to zone other land in the area for a grocery store. Other grocers have been hesitant to build in west Provo because of the land owned by Smith’s, leaving residents of west Provo having to cross the interstate in order to do their grocery shopping. (Allie Blacker)

The Provo City Council passed an ordinance with a 6-1 vote on Feb. 2 to rezone 11 acres of land in order to expedite the process to build a grocery store in west Provo.

The land in question is 1920 W. Center, which was rezoned from community shopping center (SC2 zone) to neighborhood shopping center (SC1 zone).

While Provo residents living east of I-15 are afforded 16 grocery stores scattered north and south of BYU, those living in west Provo must travel across the freeway to do their weekly grocery shopping. 

Residents of west Provo have been calling for a grocery store to be built in their area for several years, with many hoping a store would be built at 1920 W. Center. The piece of land in question is owned partially by Smith’s and partially by Provo resident Rick Cox and his family. While the Cox family is ready and willing to develop this piece of land, Smith’s-Kroger has not made an effort to put plans in place for a new grocery store that the community claims to need.

“We think that the city has given Smith’s ample opportunity to come forward and come with a proposal, and they have failed to do so. We’re supportive of whatever decision that City Council wants to make,” Cox said, representing the Cox family at the City Council meeting. 

“This has needed to be done for a long, long time,” said Provo resident Melanie McCord. “It’s time to play hardball with Smith’s. They are not doing one of the things that they claim is their corporate goal, which is to serve communities. They’re not, and I think they need to be shaken up a little.”

Members of the economic development department have looked into other pieces of land in west Provo where a grocery store could be built but have been unsuccessful in securing a buyer while Smith’s owns the land in question.

“Since this property has a lease agreement for a potential grocery store site, (that) eliminates (any other company’s) interest in pursuing a grocery store at any other property on the west side of Provo,” said economic health director Keith Morey. “We’re hoping that this rezone removes that barrier and allows companies that have expressed interest in possibly moving forward on other locations in (west Provo).”

While many west Provo residents are in favor of a grocery store in their area, several people expressed their disapproval of a rezone.

“It is too bad to see this property lost as a potential commercial property,” said Jonathan Hill, a neighborhood chair in west Provo. “It’s right on the corner of two major roads on the west side of Geneva and Center Street. It would be really great to see some good commercial (real estate) go on here, but (Smith’s) controls it and this seems like the only kind of reasonable way that the city can kind of force their hand a little bit.”

“I do have some concerns about the rezone,” said Scott Yergensen, another neighborhood chair in west Provo. “We’ll continue to see people in my neighborhood leak out to Orem to do their shopping. They’re not going to shop at a store off University Avenue. (The property is) unfortunately tied up, but I would hate to see this rezoned to medium density residential when it’s an ideal location for a grocery store.”

Provo City officials said they understand the consequences of rezoning this plot of land, but many of them expressed strong opinions in favor of the rezone in order to better serve the residents of west Provo.

“We would do whatever we needed to do to put a grocery store there if it was an option,” Morey said. “We have been in regular communication with Smith’s up until recently. They know that this item is on the agenda tonight. If there was an opportunity to put a store here and do something else that would maximize that property for the city and for the property owners, we’d be happy to do whatever we needed to do to make that happen.”

Councilwoman Shannon Ellsworth opposed the vote to rezone this piece of land, claiming that it “feels manipulative to change someone’s private property rights with their zoning in order to elicit a response from a corporation.”

The other six members of the council all expressed their support for the rezone as a means to expedite the process to build a new grocery store in west Provo.

“The zoning ordinances are a tool for us to use to do what we think is best for our citizens. There’s interminable log jam here that has been going on way too long, and I just empathize too much with the citizens in this southwest part of town. I think we’ve got to do whatever we think is appropriate to provide them with a grocery store that they’ve hoped for for years and years,” said Councilman Bill Fillmore.

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