Weber Co. leaders consider change to safeguard rural areas from urbanization

Thursday , May 03, 2018 - 5:15 AM1 comment

OGDEN — Greg Bell and many others have been clamoring: If current land-use codes aren’t changed, western Weber County, still full of wide open spaces, will turn into an endless sprawl of suburbia.

Weber County’s codes governing development on agricultural land, as is, have allowed developers “to cram in a bunch of homes,” Bell said.

Such development, with what he views as lacking requirements to preserve ag space, threatens the rural feel of the area, and he and others living in the zone have been pushing for change.

Weber County officials, similarly, have been looking into the matter, and on Tuesday, county commissioners preliminarily approved changes aimed at making sure larger swaths of farmland remain even as new homes go in.

RELATED: Rural Weber County residents bristle at development, but growth is coming

Western Weber County, with its large expanses of open land, has been a hotbed of housing growth as the population here expands. Signs announcing new subdivisions dot the roads in the area. But development — the mantra all along the Wasatch Front — has prompted concerns from some, worried the county’s agricultural heritage will fall by the wayside.

Per the proposed changes — still subject to final approval by commissioners — pieces of ag land to be preserved in cluster subdivisions, as the housing developments in rural areas are known, must be contiguous, not spread piecemeal. The aim is to leave large-enough plots of land within such subdivisions — 5, 10, or more acres — that they can be farmed; not scattered pieces that are too small to be useful.

Story continues below photo. 

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Bell, leader of a group of homeowners in western Weber County who have pushed for change, and worry about a cluster subdivision taking shape near their homes in the Taylor area. “We have to balance property owners’ rights with the needs and desires of the community and I think that does a pretty good job of it.”

Scattered 1-acre pieces of ag land across a cluster subdivision — permitted under current codes to meet open space requirements — aren’t conducive to cultivation of crops. They’re hardly big enough to turn a tractor around in, though they can be used for grazing, Bell said.

Larger, farmable pieces of land are more in line with the vision of the codes allowing for cluster subdivisions in rural Weber County, according to Charlie Ewert, principal planner in the Weber County Planning Division.

“Larger contiguous open spaces better provide for agricultural opportunities, but also better provide for the sense of open rural character by offering visual breaks,” he said in a report on the proposed code change.

RELATED: Weber County ag boosters tout import of farming even as more development looms

The three commissioners all gave their preliminary approval Tuesday, but offered little input on the specific proposed changes. Commissioner James Ebert said he’d like “to have folks look at it and have a feel for it” and Ewert answered, saying county planning officials have been working with residents in the zone.

“A lot of people have had a lot of eyes on this, providing a lot of feedback,” Bell echoed. The changes, if ultimately approved, wouldn’t apply to the 180-housing unit development taking shape near his home, the Sunset Equestrian subdivision, because it launched before county leaders started mulling change.

Story continues below photo. 

Despite commissioners’ preliminary action, a developer on hand Tuesday expressed concern about the potential change.

Ed Green, a Layton developer, said the update, if approved, would make a proposed development he has in the works in western Weber County difficult to complete given the peculiar size of the plot and a canal and sewer line that bisect it. Beyond that, he questioned the wisdom of requiring preservation of larger, 10- to 20-acre parcels of open land.

“Is it sustainable for life?” Green said, questioning whether interest in farming such large swaths of open land would continue as the years pass and more houses take shape. “In all honesty, what are you going to do with these?”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

×