NORTH OGDEN — As developers seek out space to build new homes and subdivisions, some look to the slopes beyond North Ogden that stretch toward Ben Lomond Peak.
In North Ogden, at least, that’s where some of the largest swaths of open, developable land remain.
“We’ve been moving further and further up the hill,” said Jon Call, the North Ogden city attorney. City officials, he went on, are “always getting calls about land on the hill.”
But while the terrain is open, it also gets increasingly steep, and the particularities of developing in the area have prompted debate among city officials about the sort of standards that should apply. The North Ogden Planning Commission in April recommended a series of changes to the existing guidelines meant to assure safe, sound development on the mountainside. But some of the provisions are drawing fire from developers as too onerous, including new rules on the sort of geologic and soil reports that need to be completed. Debate and discussion continues.
Kami Marriott, involved with developer Randy Marriott through Westside Investments in a proposal to develop 200 acres above North Ogden, told city leaders this week that she thinks the projects she’s been involved with in the area have been solid, quality developments. The North Ogden City Council and Planning Commission held a joint work session last Tuesday on the proposed new standards and she addressed the officials.
“I guess the question maybe for you guys to consider is, is there a project up there that maybe you don’t like something about that this ordinance would correct?” she asked. The Westside Investments proposal, called North Hills, calls for up to 626 housing units north of Nebo Avenue, an area now outside North Ogden’s city limits.
Phil Swanson, a member of the North Ogden City Council, also has his concerns, notably that any change not be viewed as a bid to hamstring development. Many in North Ogden, he noted, have spoken out against overdevelopment of the mountainsides surrounding North Ogden and he worries about such concerns taking precedent over landowners’ property rights.
“It’s been very vocal — ‘We’ve got to save our foothills, we’ve got to save our foothills, we’ve got to save our foothills.’ And then all of a sudden, the council and commission comes up with a way to save the foothills. It kind of smells,” Swanson said. “I just think we have to make sure as we’re going through all of this that public safety really is the prime reason that we’re doing it.”
Rob Scott, who recently stepped down as North Ogden’s planning director but is aiding in retirement with efforts to upgrade the “sensitive lands” ordinances, as they’re called, said the effort, in part, aims to update the city’s zoning and land-use codes. They date to 2002. Assuring safe development in what can be precarious, unstable terrain — steep, site of the Wasatch Fault — is also a big consideration.
“It’s focused on the safety of the area and making sure the houses built up there are as safe as they can be,” said Call. Scott noted the 2017 Riverdale landslide that forced the evacuation of four homes on a ridgetop after it started to crumble. Three of the four homes were eventually demolished.
Like Kami Marriott, though, Randy Marriott noted that when he takes on a project, he takes all the necessary precautions to make sure it is safe and sound. In his view, the existing guidelines are sufficient. “I build good projects. I’ve never built a bad project,” he said. “And they’re all safe.”
The focus of the efforts are the steep areas north and east of the developed portions of North Ogden. The proposed guidelines, which would have to be approved by the City Council to take effect, call on developers to complete studies, reports or analyses on soil, erosion control, geology, hydrology, fire protection and more. Those new study requirements, just part of the change, seem to be a big point of contention for some.
“It is difficult for a property owner or developer to accept the expenditure of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, on the twelve (12) required site-specific studies without any indication that the issue being studied is even likely to exist,” Bruce Parker said in a letter to planning officials. He represents the Marriotts and Westside Investment.
Likewise, Carson Jones of Blackburn Jones Real Estate expressed concerns with the provisions on geological study. Requirements should be determined “on a parcel basis as it can change fairly rapidly in this area,” he wrote. “These requirements already exist and the need to change them is questionable at best.”
Scott said city planners would work with developers on the particular studies that would need to be completed, depending on the characteristics of the land in question.
Cherie Hall Ensminger and Richard Hall, the managing partners of Hall Bros. Land Co., said in a letter to city officials that they “strongly oppose” the proposed changes.
“The development of zoning regulations for Sensitive Lands appears to have evolved from concerns regarding geology, hydrology, soils and other safety factors into how we can limit and thwart development. We feel that this proposal is an extreme overreach and caters to the segment of the North Ogden community that have moved here and now feel that they like what they have and that there is no need for further development,” they wrote.
In particular, they took exception with the proposal that homes can only be 25 feet high and the many new requirements, which, they fear, would add “significant time and cost” to projects.
Mayor Neal Berube said at Tuesday’s meeting that he worries some of the provisions are being misunderstood. Swanson proposed creation of a group made of representatives from the parties involved to sort through the questions. Parker welcomed the notion.
“We think we can come to something that will work for everyone,” Parker said.