Monday, June 11, 2007

Wasatch City - Part 27

Many of you long-time residents of delightful rural Wasatch County remember the good old days of green fields, pastures and open spaces that you cherished about the lovely Heber Valley. Many of you newcomers were enticed to this area because of the same features.

Most of you are aware that we live in one of the fastest growing areas of the country, partly because of the valley's desirability that is recognized by new and old alike. About two years ago, some county officials finally seemed to realize that we were losing the small town atmosphere that everyone seemed to agree was desirable - as shown through polls, comments and, even, campaign speeches. A moratorium was placed on development in the county.

The supposed purpose was to provide for open space on the valley floor to attempt to retain some of that desired and elusive open space and rural character. The resultant law from that 2005 moratorium was a convoluted "cluster" requiring each development to have 50% open space, with bonus density for pretty landscaping. This was quickly found to be unworkable for various reasons, mainly because it tried to put eight pounds of stuff in a five pound bag.

A second moratorium was enacted and the RA1 development law was again changed to now require only 30% open space in each development, again with bonuses for cosmetics. A possibility of a "fee in lieu" was included, as a teaser, to allow the purchase of additional density (building lots) above the base of one lot per 1.3 acres.

Land developers are very shrewd in interpreting law and configuring their acreage to maximize their investment. Very quickly the idea arose that "each proposed cluster development shall provide thirty (30%) dedicated open space" did NOT mean 30% of the land must be open space, but it meant that open space could be someone's back yard, or a road, or unbuildable land, or anything that would allow the maximum number of houses to be built and maximum profit to be made. Recent (maybe two months ago) INTERPRETATION of this development law indicated the REQUIRED 30% open space could be offset by a fee - for which there is NO LAW to allow this to happen.

The end result to date: Before the 2005 moratorium, in the RA1 zone, one acre was required to build one house. Meaning, quite simply, on 100 acres about 69 houses could be built, because of required roads and lot layouts designed of a minimum of one acre. The first resultant RA 1 law changed this to a base density of 76 houses on that same 100 acres (a ten percent increase); or, with 50% open space, 100 houses could be built (a 40 % increase). That second law kept that density increase but required a 30% open space.

The latest INTERPRETATION: The open space may be someone's backyard and is contained in the 1.3 acre per house calculation - which will now allow 1 house per acre and NO open space is required. This amounts to a 40% increase in density before the moratoriums to increase open space and "To maintain and protect Wasatch County's rural character" - the avowed and expressly written purpose of section 16.27.10 of the County Land Use Code.

Thus the continuing slide towards Wasatch City continues, not even considering the massive and growing density increases caused by city annexations. Is this 40% density increase really in the interest of the "health, safety and welfare of the community?"

In rural Wasatch County, is this truly the desire of the residents?

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