West Hills announcement took nearby landowners by surprise
The would-be town of West Hills between Hideout and Kamas advertises itself as the product of a cooperative of residents, farmers and landowners. But not everyone within its boundaries falls into that category.
Some residents say they were caught off guard when the notices went out promoting the West Hills incorporation.
Lindy Sternlight found the flier in her mailbox on Saturday, May 6.
“I left it on the counter for a couple days because it did not look professional,” she said, “and then opened up and it's like, ‘What's this?’”
A couple days later, her mailbox had a map of the town’s potential boundaries from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.
“And that is all the information we've gotten,” Sternlight said.
West Hills’ sponsor, real estate attorney and local landowner Derek Anderson, kickstarted the incorporation process by filing a petition with the Lieutenant Governor’s office April 27.
The fliers he sent out included the press release available on West Hills’ website and a more personal letter addressed to his fellow landowners.
“Our primary goal in forming this cooperative is to create a self-sustained and vibrant community that preserves and enhances the unique character of our area,” he wrote.
The letter said the landowners pushing for West Hills incorporation had already explored options over the last two years, including annexation into Kamas.
Another local landowner, Bill Leavitt, said he had heard from Anderson last year. Anderson asked him if he was interested in being a part of the new town.
Leavitt said no, and his land wasn’t included. He hasn’t heard from friends or neighbors that they want it either.
“What I find funny about it is they're saying that all these local farmers and locals want it,” Leavitt said. “Well, I was born and raised in Kamas. And I know everybody around there, and I haven't heard one person say they want this.”
Anderson told KPCW the owners of around 20% of the land in West Hills signed the initial petition, and that potentially even more support it.
But it reminds Leavitt of the proposal from a couple years ago to incorporate “Garff Ranch City” on a massive 17,000 acres.
“And then I just seen it on the news the other night," he said, "and it’s like, ‘Oh s***, they’re doing this again.’”
West Hills sits on a much smaller 3,500 acres. The people behind the two proposals have the same last name, Anderson, but there’s no relation.
The business license of the firm proposing Graff Ranch City, Anderson Development, expired in April 2022.
A representative for Derek Anderson confirmed the company is not involved with West Hills incorporation. Anderson says the incorporation is not developer-driven.
But, West Hills does encompass a small portion of land owned by the Garff family, the latest Summit County ranching family included in the proposal.
Garff-Rogers Ranch, which abuts the northwestern part of West Hills, runs cattle down to pens near Sternlight’s property. In her mind, the grazing is part of what makes the community collaborative.
“We truly are a collaboration on our site,” Sternlight said. “It truly is. We maintain the open space by allowing the graze to go on.”
It’s good for taxes too. People with greenbelt designations get low property taxes in exchange for keeping their property fenceless for cattle and other livestock.
Anderson said it’s what would make the town desirable.
“With the open space, parks, land donation and ‘clustering’ there will be plenty of open space for the cattle to walk across,” he said in a statement.
He acknowledged the desirability of greenbelt for tax purposes and reiterated West Hills’ commitment to preserve the character of the area.
For residents like Sternlight, that character is why they moved to the area in the first place. Wide open space and gravel roads are attractive.
“For us who chose to live here, there was a reason for us to choose to live here,” she said. “We did not want a town. You know, we wanted a rural environment.”
There may still be a choice if township incorporation is ultimately put to voters.
Anderson’s letters to local landowners announced West Hills incorporation would go on the November 2023 ballot, but that’s premature.
First the town needs to be deemed “feasible” by the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Its feasibility study will cover the logistical aspects of whether the town could plausibly access water, sewer, police and other municipal services.
Passing that hurdle triggers a public hearing, and only after that happens will incorporation be put to a vote.
Anderson says there will be open houses and town hall discussions in the future too. For now, he’s focusing on following up with one-by-one phone calls to landowners in the would-be West Hills.