It is a picture that may soon fade from much of the Top of Utah. On a recent summer afternoon, horses moved easily around a spacious corral on Emerald Drive in Layton, apparently unfazed by passing traffic and large housing areas across Cherry Lane. Across the street, a field of recently cut grain is visible, bordered by a sod farm and nearby Andy Adams Park to the south.
This unique mix of rural life in an urban setting fits very much into the scenery of Davis County's largest city. But this blend of animals, open space and people may be less common in the future.
Urban sprawl is coming, and growth may eventually consume many of the fields in Layton, as it has in many neighboring cities. The projections for the Top of Utah and the Beehive State overall are growth, growth and more growth.
A 2008 study by the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget outlines a pattern of growth that shows the populations of most Top of Utah counties will double by 2060 and significantly diminish the wide-open nature of much of the Beehive State.
That baseline study shows Box Elder County with a population of 126,925 by 2060, more than double its 50,290 residents counted in the 2010 census.
The study shows Weber County going from 234,420 in the latest census to 493,358 by 2060.
Morgan County's population is expected to really accelerate from its 9,685 census number in 2010 to more than 68,000 in that 50-year time frame.
Even Davis, the smallest county in the state geographically, shows significant growth, according to the study, going from a 2010 census figure of 311,811 to 441,398 in the 50-year time span.
That translates into the need for a lot more housing, jobs and infrastructure -- as well as a balancing act in trying to maintain a high quality of life, say many local city planners.
Many insist their communities are growing because of their rural feel, not their urban possibilities.
No community seems to be a better laboratory to see growth and the resulting mix of residential and commercial than Layton.
The projected build-out of the northern Davis community of 70,000 people falls somewhere between 110,000 and 120,000 residents.
Bill Wright, Layton's director of economic development, says the economy will control the throttle of growth for the state.
Planners are working to grow the basis of jobs in Davis County's largest community, he says.
"Layton doesn't want to be a bedroom community to Salt Lake City. We want to provide a lot of housing choices and bring jobs to the community."
Wright suggests diversifying the city's business base beyond a dependence on nearby Hill Air Force Base requires more housing options for people of all ages, including more Class A multifamily housing.
Mayor Stephen Curtis and Wright also say the city's participation in UTOPIA, while controversial, will be a key draw for business in the future.
The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency is a consortium of cities working to provide ultra-fast broadband fiber-optic connections to homes and businesses in their communities. Critics have questioned its viability.
Layton City Planner Peter Matson suggests the right kind of growth won't come by accident.
The right planning, he says, will require vigilance by future city councils and planning commissions to make sure land-use policies are better in line with a needed housing and job balance.
"Lots of times, the jobs don't come unless we can demonstrate we have the housing to support them," Matson says.
Keeping the feel
Those housing options are often controversial, as recent land-use issues in both Layton and Syracuse suggest, where farmland owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being projected for mixed use, with some resistance.
There seems to be less political support in many communities for multifamily housing, even though the term goes beyond mere apartments.
Syracuse Community Development Director Mike Eggett goes so far as to suggest his community may never embrace big apartment buildings, given the current landscape.
Data suggests new growth and housing equals higher incomes per household for the community.
For example, Syracuse was among the fastest-growing cities in the state for the past decade.
The median household income for the community, according to the census, was $80,994, which far surpassed the state average of $56,330 for the same period and the county average of $66,866.
Only Kaysville showed a higher median household income in the county for the same reporting period. By contrast, the median household income in nearby Clearfield was $47,570.
All planning doesn't involve merely scoping future land use for open fields. For many older communities, like Roy, the planning process is as much about redevelopment as development.
Roy City Planner Jared Hall suggests too much is made of future statistics and build-out numbers. His community has a population of 36,844, but the city's general plan shows a build-out number of 46,000 residents.
Hall suggests it might require tearing down some existing buildings and replacing them with high-rise apartments to ever reach that number.
He is skittish about projecting too much, based on current conditions -- and he isn't the only one hedging on defining the future.
West Point is one area expected to see the largest percentage of growth in the future, but City Planner Boyd Davis sees slower, steady movement.
"We have a high quality of life, and we like the rural feel here," he says.
That rural feel is also a major selling point just across the border in Weber County, where West Haven and Hooper are both projected to show significant growth.
But city officials suggest it may be more in a planner's imagination than in practical application. Both cities are among the youngest in the state.
West Haven Mayor Brian Melaney says people move to his community looking for a rural lifestyle, not an urban setting.
"It's a place where they come to get away. I'm not sure it will ever be a hub for industrial development," he says.
That rural feel has translated into bigger lots, where people can have horses and cattle and not be part of developments where the houses are lined up row by row.
That rural feel also impacts the bottom line.
West Haven does not have a local property tax, a status Melaney says will be in place for at least another year.
He can't project when, and if, that will change, even as the city continues to deal with escalating costs of services, many of which are provided by Weber County.
Like its neighbors to the north, Clinton has seen its share of growth in the last decade.
The 2010 census for the city shows 20,426 residents and a 62.3 percent growth in population since 2000. City Manager Dennis Cluff says the city's projected build-out is 32,000.
With population growth in Clinton has come a growth in the commercial sector, so city planners face the challenge of making sure the city's roads can handle the increased traffic load.
Infrastructure for people to travel east to west has been a problem in communities on the west side of Weber and Davis counties for several years.
One element of future transportation planning, the North Davis Corridor, is expected to have an especially big impact on communities from Farmington to Weber County.
Davis says West Point officials have put the planning process on hold until they know specific details of how the corridor will impact their community.
Past vs. future
Besides maintaining rural life amid the need for better transportation systems, many Top of Utah cities face the challenge of balancing the past with the future.
Farmington is one of Davis County's most historic communities, and its residential feel downtown, featuring a Main Street populated with sycamore trees, has captured national attention.
In a recent Money Magazine article, the city was rated as one of the 12 most desirable communities in the U.S. in which to live.
Still, the city is moving away from a sleepy little bedroom community that houses county offices.
The $250 million Station Park development is generating local sales tax revenue and forcing the issue of development.
City leaders have already identified 240 acres that they would like to see used as a business park in an effort to create a local base for jobs.
New apartment buildings are being built adjacent to the city's FrontRunner stop.
City Manager Dave Millheim thinks Farmington can expand while still maintaining its historical identity and roots.
"You can have both, but you've got to be very methodical about your growth," he says.
He cites an example from Park City. There, an old mining building at one end of town burned, but city officials insisted the new structure be built within specific historical guidelines.
Millheim thinks Farmington is ideally located for transit-oriented development -- mixed use near transportation hubs -- which the city has with the FrontRunner stop and key intersections with Interstate 15, U.S. 89 and the Legacy Highway.
Farmington Community Development Director Dave Petersen thinks the city will be able to grow without sacrificing quality of life.
He notes Farmington has the only grade school in Davis County that doesn't bus kids because it is within walking distance.
He says city leaders have also protected the shoreline of Great Salt Lake and have a trail system that is unparalleled in the Top of Utah.
City leaders have also targeted a possible recreational complex in the coming decade.
Increasingly, big plots of developable land are fading from view.
The LDS Church is one of the largest landowners in northern Davis County and has more than 1,000 acres of farmland, some of which is being projected for future growth.
General plans for Top of Utah communities show those acres with a nonagricultural use in the future.
One of those communities is Syracuse, which has historically been a farming community.
With growth, some of the farms have yielded their last crop -- asphalt and rooftops -- and increasingly it appears the North Davis Corridor could claim even more.
Eggett says planners have identified 10 sectors of the city that they will put under the microscope for review as the community's general plan is updated.
The first area, near Syracuse High School, has already stirred discussion of what impact a proposed industrial park would have on local neighborhoods.
Eggett says the goal is to keep options in the city plan as wide as possible to deal with the direction community leaders choose to take the city.
Another challenge of developing in the western part of northern Davis County, says Kaysville City Planner Scott Messel, is the high water table, along with the shoreline of Great Salt Lake.
Big concern: Water
Ironically, it is water that may be the biggest issue of them all as growth in the Top of Utah unfolds, says Jim Riley, a water rights consultant based in Layton.
If the state's outline for growth holds form, the state doesn't have enough water to meet the needs of its residents, he says, adding that changes will be in order if the growth continues.
"It boils down to, how do you double the population, which you would assume would double the domestic demand for water?"
Riley says the state has been pushing conservation, which he claims will gain about 25 percent of what is needed, and adds that, in the past 100 years, the solution has always been to change agriculture water to culinary water.
He says the state is running out water that can be potentially changed to culinary use. The problem is already manifest in the Salt Lake Valley, which, on paper, has overappropriated existing groundwater resources two to three times, Riley says.
He predicts the quality of life in Utah will not be so green in the future, as the costs of watering will only grow, forcing changes in landscaping and other water-use habits.
"I think in the next 40 years we are faced with some really tough decisions -- are we going to drink the water, or do we want to use the water for agriculture?" Riley says.
"I don't think lawn and garden landscaping will be an issue -- we just don't have the water. Getting us to that point will be very difficult."
As an example of how the issue will translate down to the user level, he points to Utah Valley and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, which had been selling water for $6,300 per acre-foot and raised the price recently to $7,000 per acre-foot and has projected selling the same water for $20,000 by 2020.