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Davis County man, aiming to protect farm, pushes back against growth

By Tim Vandenack - | Mar 15, 2023
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In this screengrab from video, John Percival, right, addresses Davis County officials on Feb. 28, 2023, about his request to get his farmland declared an "agricultural protection area" in light of booming development. Listening, from left, are Davis County Commissioners Lorene Kamalu and Randy Elliott and Neal Geddes of the Davis County Attorney's Office.
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This map of Davis County, outlined in pink, shows the many cities filling much of the developable land mass of the county.

FARMINGTON — Davis County, the third most-populated county in Utah, is almost filled up.

As the county’s population surges, cities expand and more homes rise from the ground, though, John Percival is trying to fight back. He raises cows on an 8.6-acre parcel tucked between Clinton and West Point — in the midst of one of the fastest-growing sections of the county — and worries about the adjacent cities trying to absorb his land.

“We’re going to get annexed into the cities, there’s no two ways about it,” the Clearfield man told Davis County commissioners at a recent meeting. “We got one shot down, but they’re coming at us again.”

As such, in a bid to secure his right to continue his farming ways, Percival and a handful of others — owners of 25.9 acres between them — sought and received approval late last month of a resolution from county commissioners declaring their land an “agriculture protection area.” Their property sits in northern Davis County — just south of Hooper in Weber County — where some of the last pockets of open, developable land in the county remain, highly sought by homebuilders.

“I raise cows there. They make a little bit of a stink,” Percival said.

Creation of agriculture protection areas is contemplated in state law as a means of preserving open farm land in Utah. As described by Jeff Oyler, head of the Davis County Planning Department, ag protection area status serves as a safeguard against backlash from those living in adjacent housing subdivisions.

“They can’t bring a lawsuit against you for, say, dust or smells or fertilizer or anything you use to work your farm,” he said. “It just gives you an extra layer of protection.”

According to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, having the ag protection status also prohibits zoning changes without a landowner’s approval and prevents a city or county from enacting laws that might restrict farm practices.

Percival’s may be a lonely voice amid the go-go development in the West Point-Clinton area, where the lure of big money prompts many to sell their undeveloped parcels. “That northwest corner of the county is the largest vestige of still-open ground and it’s being eaten rapidly,” said Oyler.

In fact, the planning official estimates there are just 12,000 more developable acres of land in Davis County, which excludes the wetlands abutting what remains of the Great Salt Lake. Aside from the undeveloped areas in and around Clinton and West Point, there’s still some vacant space around Syracuse and west Layton, all in the northern half of Davis County.

Oyler often hears from people seeking a “rural atmosphere.” Good luck finding it, though. Davis County, he said, “does not have rural anymore. It’s very, very urban.” Home to an estimated 367,000 people as of 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — third most among Utah’s 29 counties behind Salt Lake and Utah counties — it’s also one of the smallest counties in terms of landmass.

Given the pressures Percival faces in trying to hold on to countrified living, county commissioners expressed sympathy with him in approving the agriculture protection area request. He sought it along with the owners of three other nearby parcels: Jared and Jamie Hancock, owner of two of them, and Elizabeth and Meb King, owner of one.

“I know what you’re up against when it comes to development, the pressure,” said Commissioner Randy Elliott, who grew up farming and still works a small parcel in the Farmington area. “I still have concerns, too, and it’s a constant worry. We’re just trying to do what we’ve done forever.”

Whether the effort of Percival and the other landowners can stem the tide of development seems doubtful. Percival didn’t respond to a query seeking comment and the others involved in the request didn’t respond to queries forwarded by Oyler’s office.

Oyler said his office receives just one or two requests a year to grant land agricultural protection status.

Reached Monday, Elliott noted the loss of land in Davis County to the West Davis Corridor, the north-south limited-access highway taking shape in western Davis County, and to schools, among other things. Open parcels, he said, are becoming a rarity.

“It’s getting less and less,” he said. Some resist pressures to sell their open land for development, he went on, while others “take the money and run.”


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