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As western Weber County grows, feedback sought on plan guiding expansion

By Tim Vandenack standard-Examiner - | Jul 8, 2021

OGDEN — One of the last broad swaths wide open to development along the Wasatch Front sits in western Weber County, says Mark Vlasic.

Davis and Salt Lake counties, said Vlasic, president of planning consultant firm Landmark Design, are “basically starting to fill in.” The open areas of Utah County, meantime, are “quite far out.”

The open fields and undeveloped land of western Weber County, by contrast, offer would-be developers and homebuilders space for development in relative proximity of the main Wasatch Front population cluster.

“The number of people that are going to be out here is significant,” Vlasic said. Some population growth forecasts suggest the county’s population could double by 2050, according to Landmark.

Accordingly, Weber County commissioners contracted with Salt Lake City-based Landmark last January to help with the update of the area general plan, the document that sets growth parameters for the zone. And now, Landmark officials are increasing outreach to get feedback from the public. Development is a red-hot topic in western Weber County and those who live in the area need to weigh in since they’re the ones who’ll be most impacted.

“We want to get the public involved with making these decisions,” said Commissioner Gage Froerer. The update will also cover planning policy in the unincorporated Uintah Highlands area east of the South Ogden and Ogden areas.

Doing nothing, leaving the existing plan in place, maintaining the status quo, isn’t an ideal option, as Froerer sees it. “It needs to be planned,” he said. Creating a new general plan, he went on, offers a blueprint “of what we want that western Weber County area to look like in the next 10, 15, 20 years.” Doing nothing, by contrast, could lead to haphazard development.

Vlasic said the general plan update should reflect the current expectations and vision of the public. The current incarnation dates to 2003 and one of the guiding principles in the 18-year-old document, crafted when development wasn’t as intense as it now is, was limiting housing development mainly to larger lots meant for single-family homes. More and more, developers are seeking higher-density development, the ability to build homes on smaller lots to meet demand.

“Are we able to use the land more wisely and find areas where we can have a little bit more density?” said Vlasic. The updated plan would potentially cover such things as allowable density of housing and where roads should be developed. It would also likely set guidelines on preservation of open spaces and creation of parks and trail systems.

Landmark has created a website outlining the initiative and asking for public feedback. It’s at westernweberfutures.org and it contains a survey and other means for the public to convey their thoughts. Froerer speaks of holding public meetings to get input.

“By being proactive and acknowledging that population growth is inevitable, the Western Weber General Plan will be a major tool to help shape and direct future growth and development in a manner that maintains the characteristics, qualities and values of the area,” reads the website created by Landmark. Landmark estimates that the population in unincorporated western Weber County could grow from around 5,700, the current figure, to nearly 25,000 by 2065.

’GROWTH IS GOING TO COME'Vlasic said Landmark Design is building on earlier efforts by Weber County Planning Division staff to gather input on how the planning document should be updated. Those earlier efforts were put on hold after area residents launched a bid to incorporate the area, turn it into a city. After that incorporation bid failed at the ballot box last year, commissioners reinitiated the county-led efforts, hiring Landmark Design, to be paid $69,910.

Preliminary indications from the earlier outreach efforts indicate a measure of support for allowing at least some areas with higher-density housing, Vlasic said. That’s a delicate topic for some, who worry such development will change the rural character of the area. The renewed efforts, Vlasic continued, aim to get a gauge of current sentiments, to see if they’re the same or if they’ve shifted. Landmark reps have already held some meetings with school district and utilities officials who serve the area.

“This is the stage for us to listen and learn,” Vlasic said. He hopes a new plan comes together by early 2022.

Whatever the prevailing sentiment, rapid growth is already occurring in the area and, in Vlasic’s view, now is the time to set the parameters on how it should occur. “The growth is going to come. What form do we want it to take?” he said.

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