OGDEN — Development is coming to unincorporated Weber County, west of Ogden and the cluster of cities around Interstate 15 heading toward the Great Salt Lake.
As the population surges and more people build homes west of I-15, as state roads officials plan the extension of the West Davis Corridor into western Weber County, there seems to be no doubt about that.
"I am telling you, I am shocked at the amount of demand there is for development in western Weber County right now," said Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins. Just two weeks ago, he said, he had a string of visits from five developers contemplating projects in the zone.
But managing the interest, figuring out how to allow development while mindful of the rights of those already out there — that's where the questions and controversy begin. The Weber County Planning Division held a series of public meetings over the spring and summer to get input from property owners in the sector on the matter. Weber County commissioners followed up, discussing the issue at their meeting on Tuesday and debating next steps.
No firm decisions have yet been made, but whatever happens, one thing's for sure — there will likely be some ruffled feathers.
"It's going to take hard decisions if we're going in any direction on this. It's going to take hard decisions that not everyone's going to be a winner on," Charlie Ewert, principal planner in the planning division, told commissioners Tuesday.
Key in the debate will be how to balance the contradictory mix of aspirations and hopes of landowners and homeowners now in the area. They want to retain the rural, agricultural feel of the area, on the one hand, Ewert said. But at the same time, many don't want to give up the right to develop their land with additional housing at some point in the future. "That's kind of a stalemate," he said.
Development by the Utah Department of Transportation over the long haul of the West Weber Corridor, too, seems to be a simmering point. That's the planned northward extension of the West Davis Corridor, the limited-access roadway to take shape in Davis County that's meant to serve as a north-south road alternative to I-15 to deal with growing auto traffic.
As is, preliminary UDOT plans call for the West Weber Corridor to follow a trajectory between 5900 West and 6700 West north of 900 South. Residents, though, favor a trajectory further west, roughly along 8300 West, to avoid bisecting farmland, Ewert said.
Commissioner James Ebert took umbrage at that idea, saying if the roadway were that far west, it wouldn't get use because it'd be too far from where people actually live. "It makes no sense. It will never pay for itself. It will never get the traffic," he said.
"It likely won't get built," Ewert added.
DENSER DEVELOPMENT OR NOT
The development issue isn't new. A group of Taylor-area residents petitioned county leaders last year, hoping to halt a new 180-unit subdivision proposed for an expanse of nearby open land, worried the new residential development would detract from the rural charm of the area. The effort ultimately failed, however, because county zoning rules allow for such development. Indeed, such subdivisions are popping up all over western Weber County.
Now, though, county officials are taking a closer look at the issue as the specter of more development and more subdivisions, looms, which precipitated the planning division meetings with western Weber County residents in March, May and June. One recommendation from Ewert that came from the meetings calls for putting a check, with certain exceptions, on allowing additional "density rights" in future housing developments, that is, the right to build homes closer and closer together, maximizing development potential.
That drew particular fire from Jenkins, who defended the right of landowners to develop their property, in some cases to generate retirement income.
"I've had several farmers come in and say, 'Look, don't you take away my rights to develop because this is my 401(k) sitting out here,'" he said. "I'm saying these large property owners, in fact, want to have more density."
Officials took no action during Tuesday's discussion, but the issue isn't going away.
Ewert would like more input from property owners. "We definitely need more public involvement ... I didn't feel like we had enough," he said.
Ebert called the efforts thus far "just the initial step" in tackling the issue, revising the county's general plan, which spells out development guidelines.