WEST HAVEN — The fast pace of development looms as a big issue in the race for three seats on the West Haven City Council.
The three challengers who topped balloting in the crowded August primary say that’s the big concern they’re hearing from the public, at least. The trio, Carrie Call, Kim Dixon and Nina Morse, say West Haven needs to reevaluate how development is occurring in the city, particularly high-density development, and get a better handle on it.
“I just think we need to have intelligent growth. It needs to be well-planned with a better vision,” said Call, the top vote-getter in the August balloting.
Six of the eight original candidates made it out of primary balloting onto the general election ballot. In addition to Call, Dixon and Morse, they are incumbents Lacy Richards and Stephanie Carlson as well as Rob Higginson. The top three vote-getters following Nov. 5 voting will fill the three City Council spots coming open.
Richards said a big priority needs to be planning for West Haven’s financial future given the city’s reliance on sales tax revenue, which can fluctuate with the economy. West Haven, unlike most Weber County cities, levies no city property tax.
The city mulled implementation of a property tax last year, ultimately nixing the idea, but the city has to always consider such options, in Richards’ view. “I think we always have to review all the options, every year,” she said.
Carlson puts a focus on her role on the council as West Haven’s emergency manager. “I have spent a tremendous amount of time writing and executing our city emergency plan in order to make West Haven city a safe place to live,” she said.
Higginson echoes the sentiments of Call, Dixon and Morse, identifying West Haven’s growth and the threat he thinks it poses to the city’s rural feel as big concerns. “I’d just like to see us slow down and get it under control before we lose our way of life,” he said.
No doubt growth is occurring in West Haven, at a greater rate than much of the rest of the Wasatch Front. The city grew at a faster rate than any other city in Weber County from 2017 to 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, and it was the third-fastest growing city in the state in the period.
GROWTH, TRANSPARENCY, POLICING
Call garnered 18.5% of the vote in the August primary, followed by Dixon with 17%, Morse with 15.9%, Richards with 11.6%, Higginson with 11.5% and Carlson with 9.1%. Here’s more on the candidates:
Carrie Call: “The people want to see change,” said Call, a homemaker. That is, the residents she’s hearing from want city leaders to try to steer growth in a different manner.
Many point with concern, in particular, to high-density development like apartments and townhomes and harbor a sense of resignation that nothing can be done to temper such expansion. However, while development already approved can’t be stopped, she said leaders can change the city’s zoning ordinances to put more controls in place to temper, for instance, how densely housing may be built.
Call also thinks city government can be more transparent, do more to get word out to the public when development proposals emerge, not just when they’re about to get voted on. “Just put it out there before everybody starts to ask,” Call said.
Kim Dixon: Dixon, a retired federal worker, calls for “a more balanced approach” to development. She pressed last year, with measured success, for the developer of an expanse of land adjacent to her home to scale back the plans, but laments the speedy pace of development in general around the city. A four-story apartment is going in at one location, she noted with chagrin.
One of West Haven’s key zoning ordinances, what’s called the mixed-use ordinance, is too lenient and gives developers too much leeway, she thinks. It should get another look and leaders also need to take stock of the growth permitted thus far to make sure developers are doing everything they’re supposed to.
She also thinks communication between city leaders and the public needs to get better. “I think we can do a lot more to be transparent about what we’re doing,” Dixon said.
Nina Morse: The city’s zoning ordinances, she laments, have allowed for “exponential growth.” She doesn’t like the flurry of high-density residential growth that has occurred in West Haven, thinks the city should back off on allowing more, and says the city’s ordinances give housing developers too much power.
City leaders, she added, need to take a long-term vision on planning and development. “We’re not doing that. We’re just approving everything that’s coming in,” said Morse, a communication specialist.
Instead of residential, she’d like leaders to put more emphasis on encouraging commercial development, luring in a supermarket, say.
Given the city’s growth, she foresees the day the city may need its own police department. As is, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement in the city.
Lacy Richards: Keeping the city in solid financial shape is a big concern for Richards.
She regards herself a fiscal conservative, but also stresses the importance of making sure the city has enough funding to run. Hence, her view that officials should at least regularly consider the varied funding options, including property taxes. West Haven’s contract with the sheriff’s office for protection is one of the city’s biggest expenses, and she’s also explored the notion of creating a new independent law enforcement district with taxing authority, akin to a fire district, to handle policing functions. That could ease the pressure on the city budget.
As for all the talk of rapid development, Richards, a registered nurse, said West Haven isn’t going to be the one spot along the Wasatch Front to stop growth. For the city’s leaders, instead it becomes an issue of managing the expansion. “We can shape it. We can guide it,” she said, and if that means tweaking the city’s zoning ordinances, she’d be open to the possibility.
Rob Higginson: Higginson, a consultant, worries that growth in West Haven is changing the nature of the city. “It just seems out of control,” he said.
Maybe a temporary halt on new development is the way to go while officials get more of a grasp on the issue. Many voters, he said, bring up the growth issue. “I think it’s a major concern,” he said.
Communication and relations between the public and city leaders is also a concern. “We need to listen to the people. I don’t think it’s happening enough,” he said.
Stephanie Carlson: Aside from her functions as emergency manager for the city, properly managing West Haven is a priority for Carlson.
As a council member, her aim, she said, is “to ensure that West Haven continues to be run efficiently, that city ordinances are appropriate and represent the will of the residents, that growth is planned for and managed well and that open space is preserved.”
As for contending with growth, she touted existing city laws on the books. “Growth is happening throughout Utah as well as West Haven. Through the general plan and zoning ordinances West Haven city plans and manages the growth,” she said.