Weber Commission OKs growth plan for Ogden Valley

Wednesday , August 31, 2016 - 5:30 AM

BENJAMIN ZACK/STANDARD-EXAMINER

This Aug. 14, 2015, photo shows the Ogden Valley.

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Weber County’s three commissioners disagreed in a rare 2-1 vote that gave approval to the new Ogden Valley General Plan. A last-minute change led to the split decision.

After two hours of public input Tuesday, Commissioner Kerry Gibson moved to approve the plan with one caveat concerning “bonus densities,” or that extra wiggle room that allows a developer to maximize profit through additional structures.

RELATED: New World Distillery opening this fall in Eden

In process for two years, the 52-page plan is a road map for growth in the scenic upper valley. It emerged from hundreds of conversations, online surveys, a diverse Citizen Advisory Committee, the advice of county departments and Ogden Valley organizations, along with guidance from elected commissioners and appointed planning commission members.

More than 1,000 participants engaged in the process and the consulting firm of Logan Simpson helped guide it to fruition. 

“The version that you have in front of you is the County Commission’s fourth draft,” Weber County Principal Planner Charles Ewert told the crowd as he detailed its purpose and scope. 

Tuesday, Eden resident Sharon Holmstrom underscored the extensive participation that crafted the plan and cautioned against making further changes.

“When you look at changing wording . . . this is a turning point for our valley. This plan could change the future of how that valley looks,” Holmstrom said, noting that many refer to the area as the goose that laid the golden egg.

“Why do people go there? Because there is open space, it’s not wall-to-wall suburbia. So there are two things you have to consider that will contribute to that density. One is the bonus density question, the other is valley-wide sewer . . . those are two critical things that could change the goose continuing to produce those golden eggs, which is called recreation.”

But at Tuesday’s session, Commissioner Gibson chose to introduce a change regarding bonus density after public input had ended. Bonus density refers to the increase in lots or units a developer can obtain on the condition that it be used for the public good, such as allowing for more affordable housing.

While the plan recommended additional density in the Ogden Valley, Gibson asked to insert the following language specific to bonus density: “Minimal density bonuses, the exact amount to be determined by ordinance, master plan, development agreement should only be allowed when they are granted to incentivize significant contribution to the advancement of the goals and principles found in this plan.”

Gibson said that tool would give planners, developers and individual property owners the opportunity to be creative.

But Commissioner James Ebert objected to adding new language after the chance for public response was possible.

“My concern is that we’ve had two years to make a major change to the plan and we’re going to make the decision up here among us three with no community input, much less input from the Planning Commission,” Ebert said.

Commission Chairman Matthew Bell sided with Gibson, maintaining that bonus densities had been discussed throughout the plan’s lengthy process.

“For 3 1/2 years since I’ve been here we’ve been talking about this,” Bell said, noting that bonus details will be further defined, with more public input, as new ordinances for the upper valley are written.

But Ebert wasn’t convinced.

“I think the Planning Commission put a tremendous amount of effort, energy and time along with public input into the plan,” Ebert said after the meeting, adding that commissioners made a small adjustment prior to Tuesday’s session to add an annual review that would measure whether transferable development rights (TDRs) and other steps taken to increase clustering were working.

Ebert said he felt bonus densities undercut TDRs, which refer to voluntary programs that allow property owners to sell development rights from their land to developers to use to boost densities at other locations.

“There could be some very focused use of bonus density, but my personal opinion is to go with TDRs and economies of scale to drive development,” Ebert said, “and if we find that’s not getting accomplished, then we could review other tools to use.”

Huntsville resident Kimball Wheatley, an active driver in planning for the Ogden Valley for several years, sided with Ebert, saying that Gibson had distorted the public process at the end.. 

“The Planning Commission and County Commission just removed bonus density about a year ago for clusters. They found it to be unnecessary,” Wheatley said.

As Wheatley sees it, if bonus density is free, a market will never develop for TDRs or the general transfer of development rights.

“It undermines that, but also undermines my willingness to give away a development right to protect the Valley if it’s just going to be given to a developer to make more money,” Wheatley said.

During Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Ogden Valley residents spoke passionately about property rights, development and quality of life issues in the spectacular mountainside paradise along the back of the Wasatch Range between Morgan, Davis and Cache Counties. 

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said he passed the state’s first TDR ordinance in 2007.

“I would encourage you to look at that (TDR ordinance) and would encourage you very strongly to look at bonus density,” Froerer said. “I feel strongly that there needs to be a way to preserve our premium property rights, our premium land, that can only be achieved through bonus density.” 

In explaining the plan, Ewert said the TDR program it contains would foster a market to move development rights off open farm lands into areas more appropriate for development. The plan also aims to cap development rights to limit population growth in the Ogden Valley to 18,000 to 24,000 residents — within the confines of available water and sewer.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.