Wasatch County is currently the fourth-fastest growing county in the nation. How will we protect our current rural feel, uninterrupted vistas and quality of life as we grow?
Traffic, air and water quality, preserving historic agricultural lands and resisting suburban sprawl are high on the priority lists of many local residents.
Growth is inevitable, but it is essential that we adhere to a long-range plan if we value our current quality of life. The General Plan strategically identifies our county’s priorities, but the plan (and these priorities) has been recently challenged. It’s easy to honor and maintain the General Plan when our economy and population growth is underperforming or even average. It has become more difficult, however, to stay the course with our county’s heightened development pressures.
Many in our community understand the General Plan’s invaluable purpose and are concerned that allowing any amendments could set a legal precedent for future requests. The recent challenge to the plan, which proposed a Central Zone boundary change to allow a quadruple-density increase to one 20-acre parcel, would set such a precedent.
What, Exactly, is the General Plan?
Back in 2001, 100 of the most knowledgeable and respected members of our community spent a few years creating the General Plan. Doug Smith, then Wasatch County Planner, was involved in its creation toward the end of the drafting process. He described the plan as such: “The General Plan establishes goals and policies for development of the county which are then used as a framework to adopt more specific ordinances. The General Plan is used as a tool for guidance when proposals for rezones are applied for.”
LaRen Provost was one of our three county commissioners before Wasatch County changed to a seven-member county council in 2000. He was also part of the group that updated the General Plan in 2001 and was recently philosophical about the group’s accomplishments. “We did the best we could with the General Plan, considering so many people were involved that had different views and interests. It’s not perfect, but it needed to be done,” he said. “It was hard for us to imagine back then the growth we would see in the next 17 years.”
The Future of the Plan
The General Plan is only as strong as our conviction to uphold it. Just last year, the county council passed its vision and mission statement, which states in part, “We are dedicated to honoring and protecting the high quality of life we enjoy and are committed to creating a unique sense of place.” We, as a community, need to ensure that our leaders maintain that dedication.
The council’s statement continues, “Through thoughtful planning and zoning, that manages the impacts of growth, the county strives to balance the preservation of the area’s highly valued rural and agricultural character with the promotion of clean and sustainable economic, residential, recreational and tourism development opportunities.”
We are at a crossroads as a community. Any change in the General Plan’s zoning boundaries may set a legal precedent for future requests. If the plan is altered, more landowners will request changes that the council will be powerless to stop, and our vision for our county will be gone. The General Plan itself stresses the importance of adhering to its vision. Per the plan, “It is the intent of the Board of County Commissioners that the Wasatch County General Plan be adopted as ‘mandatory’ requiring all developments to adhere to the plan.”
Since proposed amendments are almost always to increase density — never to decrease it — the public is encouraged to share their opinions on growth at the public meetings.Thankfully, that forward-thinking group of 100 community members gave us the power speak up about any future challenges when they drafted the General Plan. The plan states, “Future requests for changes in zoning, not in accordance with this general plan, will require a change to the plan, thereby giving the public additional input into any changes made and ensure that established public policies in the plan are followed or appropriately changed.” Other small western towns have been through this exact same issue over the previous decades. How our valley looks 20 or 30 years from now is actively being decided today. If you’d like to participate in the discussion – as the original creators of the General Plan have empowered you to do. There is no time like the present to get involved.
To learn more about the Wasatch County General Plan, go to wasatch.utah.gov/Planning#61923-general-plan.
The General Plan: Stated Purpose in Regards to Planning
- To promote the most acceptable type of development within each planning area of the county.
- To insure the orderly growth of urbanizing areas and reduce the haphazard scattering of development that has occurred since the first plan became outdated.
- To protect the natural and cultural resources of the county.
- To insure that geologic hazards, flood plains, wetlands, ridgelines, view sheds and other physical constraints are adequately considered in each planning area.
- To insure that growth does not over tax the water resources and degrade the clean air of the county.
Tracy Taylor is a local real estate broker of over 21 years with Keller Williams Real Estate. She is a recipient of the “2017 Advocate Award” by Keller Williams Park City for her volunteer work. Tracy is also the chair of the Wasatch Taxpayers Association which encourages citizen education and involvement, and transparency in government. Go to WasatchTaxpayersAssociation.com for more information.