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Wasatch County shelves new ordinance after developers protest building limits

The Wasatch County Council considered an ordinance to prohibit construction of roads on steep slopes, which is in part an effort to keep exposed dirt and sediment out of nearby water bodies.
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The Wasatch County Council considered an ordinance to prohibit construction of roads on steep slopes, to reduce dirt and sediment in nearby water bodies.

An ordinance that would prevent building on steep slopes in Wasatch County to protect watersheds is not moving forward. The county council put it aside after developers said it would derail their projects.

The council tabled a proposal to restrict roads from being built on slopes of 30% grade or steeper.

Putting buildings on steep slopes, meaning 30% or greater, is already prohibited. The new code amendment would add roads and other infrastructure to what can’t be built.

A 2019 water quality study found that 75% of the water used on the Wasatch Front passes through the county’s reservoirs. The county has been reviewing part of its development code since that study recommended stricter standards.

Ryan Taylor of T. O. Engineers worked with the county to draft the ordinance. He said at the Wednesday council meeting that’s a driving factor behind the proposed limits.

“So, the water quality here is important not only to us, but also to a lot of very important people on the other side of the hill,” Taylor said. “Our current plan is not a comprehensive, long-term solution for a wide range of contaminants. In summary, we can do better.”

One of the major concerns, that led to drafting the ordinance, is that during and after construction on steep slopes, sediment runoff is more likely to pollute nearby water bodies. That’s partly because loose dirt becomes exposed when vegetation is cleared.

The Wasatch County Planning Commission also reviewed the new policy. It didn’t recommend approval because it said the ordinance needed more review but that the intent to keep water clean is important.

Seven developers and two lawyers spoke at the meeting in opposition to the ordinance.

One attorney was Richard Catten, representing the state authority overseeing the Mayflower Mountain Resort area called the Military Installation Development Authority, or MIDA. He said the state’s taxing jurisdiction over the area could come with legal reasons the county shouldn’t prohibit development there. He also asked the county to delay the decision until the county and MIDA could meet to work on an agreement.

Developer Kelly Walker said when he bought 400 acres in Lake Creek Canyon last year to develop as subdivisions, he didn’t foresee problems with his plan based on existing code.

He said that was a $19 million investment, plus another $1 million spent in the year since on water rights and engineering, and the ordinance would reduce the property value to $3 million.

“The proposed change would make it illegal for me to access my property,” Walker said. “Should the council implement this code, I invite each of you to join me as I invite potential buyers to come to the property and tell them they can’t build a home, they can’t build a home, they can’t get a road up it, they can’t put a four-wheeler trail on it, and if they walk it, they have to do it without a trail.”

He also said his property is far enough away from water bodies that no construction could contaminate them.

Councilmember Steve Farrell proposed tabling the discussion “indefinitely” with the intention to review the concerns addressed in the council meeting.

Councilmember Kendall Crittenden told KPCW it is too soon to know whether the council will eventually reconsider limiting roads on steep slopes. He said it might be helpful to amend the code in a way that doesn’t impact developments that aren’t near bodies of water.