Provo designing new plan to guide rapid development

The “Provo Strong” sign sits outside the Provo Recreation Center. The city of Provo is updating its general plan to prepare for future growth and development. (Karina Andrew)

As the population along the Wasatch Front shoots upward, leaders and residents have their eyes on sustainable development. Projects such as the Daybreak community in South Jordan and The Point in Draper demonstrate stakeholders’ interest in walkability, preserving open spaces, green infrastructure and a modern, urban lifestyle. 

Utah County is one of the areas expected to see the most growth. The county’s population is projected to double in the next three decades, with Provo seeing an increase of nearly 40,000 residents by 2050. To plan and prepare for sustainable growth, Provo city is updating its general plan.

The general plan is a guiding document for policy and development in the city. Provo’s current general plan was written in 1997 and hasn’t received an update since 2009. City Council member Shannon Ellsworth said she initiated the plan update process because the previous plan was too outdated to be helpful to the city council when they make decisions about land use in Provo.

“Those decisions should be based not on how we feel on Tuesday night, but they should be based on the merits of the project, the needs of the community and the general plan,” Ellsworth said in an interview with the Universe.

Urban and outdoor design studio Design Workshop is taking the lead in creating Provo’s new general plan. Community engagement has been a key part of every phase of the design process so far. 

“This is the community’s plan. This is not our plan,” said Design Workshop president Becky Zimmerman. “We are listening.”

Phase one of the design process was to “explore and engage,” Zimmerman said. They began the design process last fall by researching previous iterations of the general plan and surveying Provo residents about the needs they see in the community and what they think should be included in the new plan.

Provo residents identified these six themes as their top priorities for the community, according to City Council member Shannon Ellsworth. (Karina Andrew)

Ellsworth said the data from this initial research yielded six main themes: sustainability, stewardship of the outdoors, a welcoming community, a resilient and viable economy, safe and connected streets and trail networks, and promoting a high quality of life through city resources. 

While these themes aren’t yet set in stone as part of the final version of the plan, Ellsworth said they are guiding further community outreach as Design Workshop continues to seek feedback.

Now, the designers are in the middle of phase two: synthesize and prioritize. This phase is also engagement-heavy, as the city has already hosted three open houses to solicit more feedback from the community about which themes to prioritize and how residents would like to see their vision for the city realized.

In a March 31 virtual open house geared toward north Provo residents, attendees identified housing variety, walkability and bikeability, nature access and preservation, and small business growth as some of their top priorities for the city moving forward. A second open house for south Provo residents yielded similar results.

The next step in the process, Zimmerman said, will be to draft a general plan using all the input from Provo residents and move into phase three: finalize and implement. Once the plan is finalized, City Council and other Provo government officials and developers will be obligated to show how any rezoning or land use decisions advance the plan’s goals.

The general plan update isn’t the only way Provo is adapting to growth. Ellsworth said she and fellow City Council members George Handley and Bill Fillmore have enacted policies to “dictate development in the foothills of Provo” and are working on guidelines “about how to preserve trails, how to improve canyons and open space.” The Provo Parks and Recreation department is also developing a new master plan.

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