Heber City presents strategy for clustering developments along Highway 40
The Heber City Council meeting Tuesday night drew a crowd of Wasatch County officials, developers and citizens. Councilors and staff discussed whether an array of proposed developments fit the area’s needs.
Heber City Planner Tony Kohler explained the city’s plan for new homes is to “cluster” new developments on the hills east of U.S. Highway 40, north of downtown. That involves bringing more land into the city limits through annexations.
When county land gets annexed into city limits at the request of developers, the city gains by collecting building fees, and developers gain city services like utilities - and sometimes, being allowed to build more units per acre than the county allows.
Kohler said annexations help build new communities into the city.
“Part of the general plan indicates that we want to encourage many of the same features in these centers - gathering areas, parks, schools, shopping, restaurants, offices and a variety of housing choices,” he said.
Other city officials agreed clustered development is a way the city can balance the demand for housing with the priority of preserving open space.
At the meeting, three residents told the council they were skeptical of that strategy. And they said clustering wouldn’t prevent new residents from adding to traffic congestion.
Around the Heber Valley many residents lament growth and development. According to United States Census data in 2020, Heber City was the fifth-fastest-growing city between 10,000 and 50,000 people in the country. Various annexation projects already in the works are unlikely to slow things down.
One group of developments near the Utah Valley University Wasatch extension would surround the campus with about 1,800 homes, businesses and community spaces like parks and a church.
North Village is a parcel within the plans around the university. Just north of the Highlands property, North Village consists of about 130 acres of privately owned homes and open space.
Within the North Village, the North Village Views would build 420 apartments and townhomes. In addition, a developer is applying to build 140 affordable townhomes, and another wants to build an assisted living facility for about 35 people.
A city rule requires developers to pay preservation fees for high density in the properties along Highway 40. For each person a residential property is built to accommodate, the developer must pay $2,500. The city sets that money aside to buy land from private owners in the North Fields.
If plans for the North Village annexation go through as presented, the developers will pay about $5 million in preservation fees.
Recent annexations are poised to change the landscape along U.S. 40 as high-density housing moves forward.
By annexing his Highlands property into the city, Terry Diehl of Cardinal Financing got approval to build more than double the density the Wasatch County Council had approved while it was still county land.
The county council took note. Shortly thereafter, the county council passed a resolution reaffirming a 2019 memorandum of understanding saying the city and county would honor each other’s density limits when land is annexed. The memo is non-binding, though, and the city doesn’t legally have to honor it.
Wasatch County councilors Kendall Crittenden and Steve Farrell, County Planner Doug Smith, and County Manager Dustin Grabau attended Tuesday’s meeting. They said there were still some inconsistencies between city and county density numbers in pending applications, but they hope to work them out.
Phillips pointed to the Sorenson project as an example of the city council deviating from its density agreement with the county for reasons he called beneficial. Although that project’s density is about 10% higher than what it proposed to the county, it also preserves about 6,000 acres of open space.
“It’s a difficult balance because the citizens have some conflicting concerns,” Phillips said. “They want less density, but they also want houses that are affordable for their families to be able to afford to live in the valley. I think most citizens of Heber Valley understand that there’s going to be growth, there’s going to be development, and they’d like to see it be quality. We’re trying to balance the density, have city centers, more open space, trails - places that are enjoyable to live in, and try to have some affordability there as well.”
Several other annexations for development projects are headed to the city council this year.
The council also heard a citizen critique of its storm water plans. Tracy Taylor pointed out that there’s no plan for stormwater runoff, and some property owners in the North Fields are concerned about flooding.
City Engineer Russell Funk said his office is working on a master plan for managing stormwater in the area. He said the complicated project is still five or six months from completion but necessary before any development agreements are approved.
The next Heber City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 1 at Heber City Hall, 75 North Main Street.