WEST HAVEN — The city’s rapid growth is a big focus in the race for three at-large spots on the West Haven City Council.
West Haven was the fastest-growing city in Weber County from 2010 to 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, and the trend took center stage at a candidate forum that drew the eight council hopefuls. Running for the three spots that are opening are incumbent councilwomen Lacy Richards and Stephanie Carlson as well as Rob Higginson, Nina Morse, Carrie Call, Russell Erickson, Kim Dixon and David Smith.
If growth in the city continues at its current rate, Morse said, “I wouldn’t want to live here, to be honest with you.”
She and most others put a focus on trying to temper the growth.
“I think we can do better,” said Higginson, putting a particular emphasis on trying to scale back higher-density development. “I feel strongly about that and I think you feel strongly about that, too.”
Many move to West Haven for the rural, country feel, said Smith, but growth has brought in an increasingly transient population “which is directly impacting our way of living.” He suggested renewing debate on the city’s general plan, which guides development in the city, and letting local residents weigh in on the sort of growth they’d like to see.
Moreover, Smith said he’d put an increased emphasis on encouraging commercial growth to add to the city’s tax base, a view others echoed.
Call, also guarded of allowing too much high-density development, doesn’t think West Haven can maintain the rapid growth it’s experienced and she touted the need for better planning to manage it. She pointed in particular to the city’s zoning rules governing mixed-use development, a point of simmering controversy among some who think they are too generous to developers.
Dixon said the growth, if it continues unabated, will bring in thousands of new residents in the years to come. She singled out looming growth on now-undeveloped fields around her home and expressed concern about the accompanying jump in auto traffic that’s likely to come on nearby 1800 South.
The City of West Haven, she charged, seems to give preference to developers over the well-being of local residents. Indeed, she thinks meetings between developers and city officials need to be documented, made public.
“It’s really sad, it makes my heart hurt,” said Dixon, alluding to the changing feel of the city. Country living in her neighborhood “is no longer here,” she continued, and she wants to protect it in the rest of the city.
Erickson expressed a measure of empathy for newcomers brought by the rapid expansion, calling for a balance between high-density housing, like apartments, and single-family homes on larger parcels “so we can provide housing for everyone.” The challenge for West Haven, he added, is accepting others whether they live in an apartment or a larger parcel, whether they rent or own, “because they are part of our community.”
Market forces typically drive growth, and Carlson said there are limitations on what the city can do. “People have the right to develop the land they own. As a city, we can manage growth, we can’t stop it,” she said.
Richards sees her role as council member as implementing the vision of city residents as expressed in the city’s general plan.
The notion of implementing a municipal property tax in West Haven, focus of discussion by city leaders last year but ultimately rejected, also came up. Most expressed opposition or strong reservations, at least, to the idea.
Before moving ahead with a property tax, Richards said the city needs to more aggressively try to bring in more commercial development to bolster the tax base. West Haven and Marriott-Slaterville are the only Weber County cities without a city property tax.
Whatever the case, Carlson said the day will likely come when the city has little choice but to implement a property tax. “It is coming. It’s not if, it’s when and when the opportune time is,” she said.
A crowd of about 120 attended Thursday’s forum, held at West Haven City Hall.
Voters may cast ballots for up to three candidates in the Aug. 13 primary and the top six move on to the Nov. 5 ballot. Dawnell Musselman, the third council member whose post is up for re-election this cycle, is not running, paving the way for at least one newcomer on the body.
Numerous city council and some mayoral posts are up for grabs this year in cities throughout Weber County and the rest of Utah.