TAYLOR — The dense development of Salt Lake County, Shae Bitton says, is gradually edging northward as Utah’s population booms.
It’s got her worried.
Western Davis County is already filling out, becoming part of the sprawl of suburban Salt Lake City. One day, she fears, that sort of growth could edge northward and overwhelm Weber County, more particularly western Weber County, where she lives, threatening the area’s rural, agricultural character.
“Davis County is kind of melding into Salt Lake,” she said. “But the growth is coming north.
Bitton and others living in the unincorporated Taylor area — lured by wide-open spaces, starry skies, the presence of farm critters and the zone’s country feel — shudder at the prospects of more cars, people, homes and sprawl. They’ve been fighting a Kaysville developer’s proposed 180-unit housing project on an undeveloped 135-acre plot of land in their backyard, trying to put a check on the number of new homes that will be allowed, to no avail so far.
“It’s just too much too quick,” said Greg Bell, who also lives in the area.
Michelle Peasley, another resident, nostalgically recalled earlier times. “There wasn’t big-city life happening out here. It was quiet and peaceful,” she said.
To be sure, suburban sprawl has yet to take over Taylor, the area west of Ogden and north of West Haven, roughly around 2200 South and 4300 West. Cows roam in some fields; crops still grow on others. There’s much more open space than developed acreage.
But steady growth here and all along the Wasatch Front is forecast over the long haul and development in Taylor is happening, resulting in growing pains.
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Signs announcing plots for sale in planned residential subdivisions dot the area, new homes are taking shape, narrow county roads are being widened to accommodate increasing numbers of cars. The University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute projects Weber County’s population will steadily rise to nearly 390,000 by 2065, up from the current count of around 250,000, paralleling anticipated growth across the state.
“Most of that growth will not occur in the already developed cities; it will likely push westward,” Charlie Ewert, principal planner in the Weber County Planning Division, said in an email.
He steers clear of doom-and-gloom projections in light of anticipated growth, noting provisions of county ordinance meant to preserve open spaces in Weber County’s unincorporated corners. The cluster subdivision code, as it’s known, is designed to encourage development of clusters of homes on relatively small lots — less than an acre each — surrounded by larger swaths of open agricultural space, thus preserving some of the rural ambiance, at least theoretically.
“The county’s current general plan suggests preserving the rural areas. The task of our office, in partnership with the public and as ultimately shaped by our county commission, is to figure out how to deal with these pressures in a way that preserves open spaces,” Ewert said. The alternative to measures like the cluster subdivision code, he warns, is “wall-to-wall one-acre lots with little or no space for agricultural uses.”
BECOMING A NEW CITY?
Even so, the Taylor residents — Bitton, Peasley, Bell and nearly 400 more who inked a petition trying to rein in the 180-unit Sunset Equestrian Cluster Subdivision plan — worry.
The Sunset Equestrian proposal and several other looming plans in the area — on top of development that has already occurred — have them considering their options. Their jitters underscore the dramatic growth expected in the years to come and the likely impact of Sunset Equestrian and other proposals, notwithstanding the cluster subdivision ordinance.
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“There’s a group of us that are interested in incorporating,” said Bell, who, along with Bitton, has led the efforts to minimize the footprint of the Sunset Equestrian plans. Bell was addressing Weber County commissioners Tuesday after they denied the Taylor residents’ appeal of planning officials’ decision granting Kaysville developer Chris Haertel final approval to move ahead with the Sunset Equestrian plans.
If the Taylor area were incorporated, becoming a city, Bell argues local residents would have more authority to craft their own zoning and development standards, maintaining stricter control over growth. “If not, we have to follow what these guys say,” he said, alluding to county commissioners.
Bell and the others successfully pressed planners and the Sunset Equestrian developers to tweak particulars of the plans, including lot size and other details that didn’t comply with county ordinance. They’re helping push broader change to the county’s ordinances that would require developers to preserve larger swaths of open ag space when building subdivisions.
But the homeowners’ efforts to reduce the number of homes in the Sunset Equestrian subdivision from 180, a bid to keep a lid on growth, fizzled. That underscores another facet of managing development — balancing the competing interests and rights of developers and the public.
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“They’re losing something,” Doug Nosler of Fieldbrook Taylor Partners, which owns the Taylor property and wants to sell so Haertel can develop it, told county commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting. “But we have dollars invested in this and I think there’s a concern on our part that doesn’t seem to be getting represented very well. We’ve bent over backwards, we feel, trying to accommodate what the zoning is, what the regulations are on this thing. And it has been a challenge, to say the least.”
Bitton, Peasley and others already living there have a harsher view of the underlying issues.
“It’s money,” Peasley said. The more homes a developer can fit into a lot, the more potential profit.
In addressing county commissioners, Nosler acknowledged the financial considerations. “Our concern is that we’re getting pecked to death on this thing. ... We’re not going to do financially what we hoped we were going to do on this deal,” he said.
LIKE THE SEATTLE-TACOMA CORRIDOR
In light of the explosive population growth expected in Utah in the years to come, the Taylor residents won’t be alone in experiencing growing pains. The state’s population is expected to grow to 5.8 million by 2065, up from around 3 million, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute projections.
Pam Perlich, director of demographic research for the institute, said growth along the Wasatch Front over time will parallel growth that has occurred along the Seattle-Tacoma corridor in Washington. “It’s going to become one large integrated, global, economic area,” she said.
Thus, planning now is key — in transportation, maintaining air quality, conserving green space, assuring a supply of affordable housing and much more. The area won’t just become a “super-sized” version of what it is now, she said, but will change in fundamental ways.
Ewert, the Weber County planner, touts moves to allow growth and urbanization while preserving some open spaces. Some, inevitably, will be OK with the evolution, others not so much. But he cautions against stymying development.
“If an area shifts from rural to suburban or urban, the threshold for tolerance of the changes will depend on each person. Some will have pride in their community as it changes. Others may long for a more rural setting,” he said. “But no one will be forced out.”
Graphic made by data reporter Sheila Wang.