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New hotels could change Heber City skyline

The View on Main, approved in April before Heber City adopted a temporary building height limit, will be the tallest building in all of Wasatch County.
Ridgepoint Development
Heber City
The View on Main, approved in April before Heber City adopted a temporary building height limit, will be the tallest building in all of Wasatch County.

Heber City’s population is growing fast. Does it need to grow in height to keep up?

That’s a question Heber City Planning Commission members asked the city council during a joint meeting Tuesday, acknowledging the recommendations they make are ultimately up to the council’s votes.

In May, the planning commission approved a new five-story hotel — taller than any building currently in the county — with the condition that the developer make affordable housing out of 10% of its units. That sparked public backlash, and the council quickly voted to limit all buildings to three stories for six months and to decide what to allow in the future.

No decisions were made Tuesday, but the planning commission expressed interest in allowing future hotels to build up to five stories in commercial districts downtown. However, they’d likely have to meet conditions like including some affordable housing.

Planning Commissioner Dave Richards said both established and prospective businesses are being forced out, especially because their employees can’t afford Heber homes. He said allowing large hotels to be built would help the local housing crisis.

“I know we don’t want to have skyscrapers or anything like that,” Richards said, “but economically, if we want someone to invest into what we have, we’ve got to give them a reason to invest. If you want to see it a certain way, you’re going to lose a certain segment of what the economy is here. It’s sad to say. I don’t have the answer.”

Commissioners used the movie theaters and an outdoor apparel company on Main Street as examples of businesses that are on their way out.

Some of the council members agreed with the idea of allowing height exceptions for hotels.

In May, Mike Johnston was the only council member who voted against the temporary building height restriction. He also cautioned against capping heights to three stories in this week’s meeting, saying it would stunt economic growth.

Councilmember Ryan Stack supported allowing larger hotels on a case-by-case basis, which would give the city more power to address specific concerns when developers pitch their projects.

Councilmember Rachel Kahler said she’d support allowing taller hotels on the west side of town to incentivize new growth near some of the city’s athletic complexes and most popular attractions.

“The train hosted over 80,000 people, and look at the rodeo grounds — they have a draft horse event this weekend that will pull in people from across the country,” Kahler said. “There’s already people gathering there, and they’re having to drive other places to stay the night. We need to really look at the west side as a tourism opportunity instead of trying to drive everything down to our Main Street.”

Kahler told KPCW she wants any code changes to incentivize developers who build taller than three stories to include affordable housing, parking or mixed-use areas.

Councilmember Yvonne Barney said she supported the idea of taller hotels on the west side of town where visitors are common. But elsewhere, she said she still wanted to limit heights to three stories or a maximum of four in some outlying areas.

Councilmember Scott Phillips wasn’t at the meeting but weighed in later in a social media post. He said he wasn’t opposed to allowing tall hotels in various locations, especially commercial zones other than central downtown.

The temporary three-story height limit in Heber City expires next month.

Kahler said the council is working on creating a downtown steering committee, and it wants input from residents and business owners before making any final decisions.

For a link to view the discussion, visit hebercityut.org.

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