Thursday, September 20, 2007

Here We Go Again - Development History

Once again the County Council has understood that the current RA-1 zoning ordinance is in need of repair. Since the moratorium of September 2005, the County has enacted two RA-1 laws to maintain our "rural" atmosphere. At that time (2005) a group of citizens tried to suggest a solution to the growth, as usual it was met with a gaping yawn of indifference.

The first try called for 50% open space, a convoluted "clustered" development, and various bonuses to achieve a "one unit per acre density" which would provide for a increase in density (number of houses) of 30%. (Historically RA-1 meant each house requires one acre of land, and each lot required 200 ft of road frontage; meaning on a ten acre parcel, about seven houses could be built after the roads were put in.)

A few short months under the new ordinance brought the realization that the ordinance was virtually unworkable, somewhat equivalent to trying to place eight pounds of substance in a five pound bag. A second moratorium was called and a second plan formulated, nearly as bad as the initial change, both proposing/allowing/encouraging a large increase in the number of houses (a 41% increase in density over pre-moratorium, with 40% LESS open space than the previous ordinance). This also included the subjective bonuses amounting to a possible 70% or so with only30% needed to maximize.

Needless to say, a minor flood of pent up development demand jumped on the bandwagon, with the usual disastrous result - more houses on smaller lots with a generlaly serpentine nominal "open space" winding it way between the potential McMansions. The Planning Commission generally approved near the maximum density, Council often cut it down somewhat.

Result - further erosion of the universal desire for rural, small town environment. The increased workload on the Planning Department and subjectivity of the bonus system, brought us to the current dilemma - and solution (NOT). After the Planning Commission decided to recommend the worse of two options, the Council opted for a third option. Basically, just give the developer one unit per acre by jumping through some small hoops or coughing up a little cash.

The hoops:

  • 30% "open Space
  • 20% of lots with animal rights (= over one acre)
  • trails, enhanced minimum landscaping (which may be required by any development)
  • I think that was it folks!!! (as no written copies were available, it may be slightly different and, as always, the devile is in the details)

An option was being offered to buy out of the open space requirement for 50% of the raw land cost. For example, on ten acres parcel, the three acres of open space could be avoided by paying ca. $150,000 (half of raw land cost). Although this was presented as a open space buy out, it certainly appears to be an increased density purchase. The $150K would provide for three lots to sell for $250,000 each PLUS the profit in the building of the McMansion.

That amounts to 3 lots at $200K plus 3 houses at $50K (??) profit or roughly $750,000 - a five to one return on investment.

One more step on the road to Wasatch City. The County has added to their website a new listing of developments, with a map and their size, density and status. It's a well conceived report which should be helpful to those wanted to follow the progress of citification.

More later, maybe.

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