Little by little, many of the open expanses of western Weber County have given way to development and subdivisions.
Farmland has been cleared, new homes have taken shape and it’s spurred increased debate and hand-wringing over how best to manage the growth.
Many from the unincorporated area — outside the jurisdiction of West Haven, Hooper and the other cities of the zone — have clamored as newcomers have streamed in, worried about out-of-control growth and the loss of the country feel. Now, amid all the development, some have come up with a radical proposal meant to give them more say in shaping the expansion — turning the expansive zone into its own city, the 16th in Weber County.
Western Weber County, with its mix of residential subdivisions, farms and open land, is one of the few populated areas of the county “that doesn’t have representation. They don’t have their own mayor and council,” said Duncan Murray, a lawyer who lives in the area and is helping in the effort. Growth is perhaps inevitable — 6,000 to 7,000 already live in the area, Murray estimates — and incorporating, he argues, would create the framework giving locals more say in how that expansion occurs.
Residents submitted a petition last month with the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office asking the office to study the feasibility of incorporating, turning the area into a city. Now it’s up to state officials, working with Weber County leaders, to determine if the petitioners meet thresholds spelled out in state law for communities seeking incorporation.
“A new city is actually rare,” said Justin Lee, director of elections in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, which handles incorporation requests.
But that would hardly end the process.
Presuming the petitioners — around 500 of them, Murray estimates — represent a large enough cross-section of the area to be incorporated, the state would carry out a study to determine if the zone could financially sustain itself as a city. If it passes muster, residents would then weigh in at the ballot box in a future election on the question of becoming a city.
“It’s kind of a slow process, step by step, and it gives people a choice all the way,” said Murray. He lives in Warren, one of four unincorporated communities that make up the proposed new city, and advised residents of what are now the cities of Marriott-Slaterville and Hooper some 20 years ago as they took steps toward incorporation.
Greg Bell, a Taylor resident involved in the initiative, said the effort sprang in part from concerns that other nearby cities might annex and absorb swaths of unincorporated western Weber County. He also cited dissatisfaction with representation from county government, which helps set policy in the county’s unincorporated corners.
“The real problem is we’re not really represented well by the Weber County Commission. We’d just be better represented if we did it ourselves,” he said. Bell helped spearhead grassroots efforts in 2017 and 2018 to temper the density of a proposed 180-unit residential development in the rural zone around where he lives, with limited success.
Being unincorporated, Valerie Hansen, also involved in the incorporation campaign, worries that the concerns of those in western Weber County rank low on county leaders’ priority list. The effort is also about asserting the unique attributes of the communities of western Weber County — Warren, West Warren, Taylor and West Weber.
“We just don’t want to lose our identity. We don’t want to be West Haven. We don’t want to be a Plain City... We want to have our own identity,” she said. Hansen lobbied county officials late last year on their proposal to zone the intersection of 4700 West and 1150 South for future commercial development, with limited success, worried the zone would lose its rural feel.
‘A COUPLE-YEAR PROCESS’
The proposed new city, which as of yet has no name, would be expansive, stretching from the Great Salt Lake eastward to the western city limits of Farr West, Plain City, Marriott-Slaterville and West Haven. It would abut Box Elder County to the north and Hooper to the south.
If the push gains steam and eventually succeeds, incorporation wouldn’t mean becoming a teeming metropolis. Murray says city hall, at first, might just be a converted home. Maybe the new city, if it comes to be, would contract with the Weber County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, handle other operations by itself.
But first things first.
Lee, from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, said officials there first need to verify whether the petitioners have sufficient support. Per state law, the landholdings of those signing petitions must represent 10 percent of the landmass of the proposed city and seven percent of the private valuation of all real property. If petitioners meet those thresholds, the state would then carry out a feasibility study, gauge whether potential tax revenue coming from property owners and residents would be enough to cover a hypothetical city’s operational costs.
Then there would be a vote and, if residents vote yes, selection of a mayor and city council. “It’s a couple-year process,” Lee said.
Though there has been a lot of clamoring in western Weber County about development, growth and the diminishing amount of farmland, Hansen insists the incorporation initiative isn’t about halting development. She acknowledges that development is in the offing and just wants local residents to be more tuned in to the process.
“We would just like a little bit of self-government,” she said. “We would just like to have a voice.”
Bell emphasizes that no decisions have been made at this early stage. “It’s really just exploring the options,” he said.
Murray, though, senses a desire among western Weber County residents to assert more control over the future of the zone. “They really want to take responsibility. They know it’s going to be hard work, but they want to do it, go to that next level,” he said.