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Water rights deficit a red flag in recently approved Heber City development

Highlands 3D 4.jpg
Credit LAI Design Group
Heber City
A 3D rendering presented at recent Heber City meetings show what the recently approved Highlands development could bring to its location adjacent to the Utah Valley University Wasatch Campus and U.S. Highway 40. The developer noted the renderings are for illustrative purposes only, and final designs are subject to change.

A major development that was recently approved with high density in Heber City doesn’t officially have enough water rights to service all of its plans.

The Highlands development has sparked controversy since it was approved December 7. When the city annexed the land, the developer received approval for plans with far more density than the county had previously approved for that same parcel - and there’s no guarantee the project has enough water reserved to service it.

The plans call for 1,100 residential units, six commercial buildings, a church, an amphitheater, a park and potentially a school on 150 acres of land north of the downtown along Highway 40.

Jordanelle Special Service District General Manager Max Covey brought that up at a North Village Special Service District board meeting Tuesday. Those two service districts work together to deliver water to the Highlands area.

“I want Heber City to understand that they may not have enough water to complete all phases of the development,” Covey said. “They have reserved water through North Village SSD, we know they have that. They may have additional, but with us as of today right now, we know what they have, and it’s less than what’s needed for the development.”

According to the study, the water the developer has through the service district is a little over 400 acre feet, which is 100 to 150 acre feet short of the amount it would need. He said one reason for his warning was if the developer runs out of water while building, parks and other amenities the city negotiated for could be at risk.

Developer Terry Diehl of Cardinal Financing told KPCW there are other sources the development could get water from. But he didn’t say what those are. He also said plans for what will actually be built depend on the future housing market, but amenities like park areas won’t be sacrificed.

When the Heber City Council approved the Highlands annexation and development in a 3-2 vote, Councilors Rachel Kahler and Heidi Franco voted against it. Franco, who is now mayor, said she opposed it because some details weren’t finalized in the plans, including proof of water rights.

A few weeks later, the Wasatch County Council passed a resolution reaffirming a 2019 memorandum of understanding saying the city and county will honor each other’s density limits when land is annexed.

“The MOU with Heber City was that they would not exceed the density that [a development] would be granted in the county,” Wasatch County Councilor Kendall Crittenden said. “Well, the Highlands - the density they’ve granted to that development - is over double what they would’ve gotten if they had continued in the county, and so that put up some red flags. So, that resolution that we passed a couple weeks ago just basically is reaffirming that we’ve got an MOU with [Heber City] and that [Heber City] will follow it and do what’s in it.”

Crittenden said the county wanted a “stronger” agreement than the non-binding MOU in 2019, but the city didn’t agree.

“I think there’s other stuff coming up,” Crittenden said. “One of the things that we need to do better is communicate before they get to this stage. We need to figure out a better way to communicate with Heber as these things come along, so we can work together on them as they move forward.”

The city and county have different processes for approving developments, including that the county requires developers to show proof of water shares up front. Crittenden said the water concern Covey raised to the special service district board, of which Crittenden is a member, is an example of problems that can arise when high-density developments are approved.

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