Sunday, March 12, 2006

Are You Ready for Growth?

A couple of stories in the papers recently which helped drive home the idea that all communities need to be ready for growth, even if they're small and out of the way, even if they don't think they can afford it.

Last Friday, the Provo Daily Herald ran a story about Cedar Fort, a small town out in far western Utah County where it has seemed that growth would never be an issue. However, last week, the Cedar Fort Town Council held a meeting to consider imposing a development moratorium so they could have time to update their development codes. "Meeting in a frigid room in the town's fire station, Mayor Howard Anderson started the meeting by saying the choice was not whether to approve a moratorim, but whether to include all or part of the town." But various attendees at the meeting, including the former mayor and the chair of the planning commission, convinced the town council to "keep their powder dry" and save the extreme measure of a moratorium for when it may be really needed.

The problem for the town, it appears, was magnified about three years ago, when "the town annexed 13,000 acres, quadrupling the town's size. There always has been some question about how the land is now zoned, Anderson said. The town's attorney, investigating the matter at the town's request, recently said the original annexation agreement zoned the property in two different ways, neither of which is legal according to city ordinances. 'We can't have a map saying one thing and a zone saying another,' Anderson told council members. 'That is illegal.'"

"Several council members and the mayor said their greatest fear is that a 'high-powered lawyer' would find a loophole in the town's ordinances that would force the city to consider a subdivision or slew of single-family homes before ordinances could be rewritten."

And what is the town doing to get those ordinances reworked? "About an hour into the meeting, the town planning and zoning chairman of three months, Bart Berry, arrived promising to work as quickly as possible to rewrite town ordinances. ... The town must be careful as it crafts ordinances to manage growth 'because this is going to affect us for the rest of our lives,' Berry said. 'What scares me is that in six months, we won't be any further along,' said Anderson, to which Berry seemed to grow angry. 'Howard, don't pin me down like that,' he said in an irritated voice. 'I gave you my word on it.' 'Then in 30 days we'll have zoning ordinances,' Anderson said calmly."

What I don't know from this story is if Cedar Fort officials are trying to do this on their own, or if they have any professional help involved. I hear in this story the echoes of what has happened in numerous other small communities on the edge of the growth wave, like Bluffdale a few years ago. You could see the wave heading for them, getting ready to slam into them. But their efforts to prepare, to get their plans and ordinances into shape were never adequately committed to, instead done in a piecemeal fashion. In the case of Bluffdale, if you read the recent court ruling on the Sorenson Development disconnection case, it has come back to bite them. Places like Cedar Fort may be cruising for the same.

In a related story in this morning's DesNews, a proposed cluster subdivision in Basin, Wyoming is causing similar concerns. An organic-cattle rancher is proposing to subdivide his 750-acre spread into an area with 137 tightly-clustered homes on lots as small as one-third of an acre, keeping the rest of the land undeveloped and in agricultural use.

"The county has essentially no zoning restrictions on much of its rural land, including Elliott's property... . 'There are no zoning controls in this area,' (county planner Jim) Waller said. 'This whole thing could be busted up into 150 five-acre lots. But as it is, he's only taking up 20 percent of the area for housing."

Again, an example of an area not ready for the growth that is coming. "The issues that came up...are hardly new to the West. But they are new to some in Big Horn County and reflect a growing trend of development reaching into isolated communities whose zoning regulations don't address such complex issues. 'We've never had any kind of proposal this big, ever,' said county planner Waller. 'Just to give you an idea, in the last 18 months, we approved only two major subdivisions. One was 10 lots on a 40-acre parcel, and the other was four lots on a six-acre parcel.'"

Everyone, large and small, needs to be ready, and needs to commit the resources to be ready.

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