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Gov. Spencer Cox urges Heber Valley to allow high-density housing, weighs in on highway bypass

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to Heber Valley business and government leaders about how growth in Utah will affect rural areas like Heber at the Utah Valley University Wasatch Campus Monday.
Ben Lasseter
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to Heber Valley business and government leaders about how growth in Utah will affect rural areas like Heber City at the Utah Valley University Wasatch Campus Monday.

At a lunch with Heber Valley business and government leaders Monday, Gov. Spencer Cox said Utah’s development policies will benefit local communities.

At the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce’s event, Cox said growth is coming, and Wasatch County needs to continue to make room.

Teachers, county council members and business owners brought up concerns like how the expensive housing market fuels the valley’s worker shortage.

Cox said clustering homes in residential zones is how areas like Heber City can grow its workforce and make homes affordable.

“The only answer is density,” he said. “We have a choice to make: Do we want to be like California, or do we want to be able to have our kids live here? I think most people want their kids to be able to live here.”

He also said high-density development is a way to preserve open spaces.

In June, the Utah Department of Transportation announced it’s moving forward with plans to build a highway bypass through the Heber Valley North Fields. Wasatch County Councilmember Marilyn Crittenden asked Cox about the state’s willingness to keep development out of those thousands of acres of pastures and wetlands.

“We have a conflict here, though, in our county, that we're trying to conserve open space, and yet we have UDOT,” she said. “Their options that they've given us is to take a road right through our North Fields that we have right here, and we all know that when we put a road in, you're encouraging density.”

Cox objected, pointing to Legacy Highway between Farmington and West Point, which he said won’t be developed due to conservation easements.

But he and Crittenden, who has opposed UDOT’s plans in local meetings as well, continued the exchange on the topic.

“Tell me where you want it to go,” Cox said.

“You can do a one-way down Main Street that could help, and it's a viable option,” Crittenden said.

“So you don’t want a bypass road?” Cox said.

“I think we need to look at the options and say, ‘Which do we want more? Do we want an open space? Or do we want to be able to look at another option that can keep traffic flowing, and can give us another option and keep our businesses viable, because they will still have the traffic going through there?'” Crittenden said.

Cox said the state has set aside about $100 million for conservation easements.

In response to questions about saving water as the Heber Valley’s population grows, he said the state has budgeted $200 million for water meters. Like many places across Utah, Heber Valley cities have set goals to install water meters at residences, which allows them to enforce water-use limits.

Cox praised some water districts for conserving water by as much as 30% of normal use without forced restrictions. He also said the state could pursue more aggressive water policies as more people move in.

“I suspect as we continue to grow, that there may be more of that if we continue in a drought, and then we'll have to make those decisions,” Cox said. “But those are decisions that will be made based on circumstance: Are we in a drought? What does the growth look like?”

Cox also told the audience at the Utah Valley University Wasatch campus he would follow up on other issues brought to his attention. Those included inconsistencies in property value assessments, programs to fund future schools with impact fees, and Hideout’s need for more businesses within its taxable boundary.

He also wished Wasatch County schools well as they begin the school year this week and drew rounds of applause when he praised teachers.

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