Along with the growth to feed its commercial tax base, the valley has also seen a flood of pricey second homes. Estimates are that close to 40 percent of new homes overall, and 50 percent in some developments, are vacation homes for people who don’t live in Wasatch County.
“I would say we have 45 percent second homes,” Tatton says. “That’s a big impact on a small community.” Her city has a current population of 2,500 that could swell to 17,000 if everything possible were built out. Tatton further notes that, thanks to all those second homes on large lots, land consumption is growing three times faster than the population.
“Tourism has less impact than second homes. No one in town knows they [the resorts] are full because the impact is so small.” And although Midway is trying to pass ordinances to regulate accommodations and a proposed resort for the area must go through several hearings, Tatton says that Heber City has most of the commercial land in the valley. So, therefore, “Thank goodness Midway has The Homestead and Zermatt.”
Kennard and Davis both say they would like to see more light or high-tech industry come to the valley to cut down on residents’ commute time. But tourism has its advantages, particularly given the money that can be raised through the transient room tax—which would go toward improving roads, water and sewer systems and other infrastructure.
“Tourism would be more favorable to the existing populace than a large industrial base,” Davis says. “It’s not a bad business. It’s clean, it generates income, and it has a low impact on schools.”
Dahmen points out that with The Homestead, Heber Creeper and outdoor opportunities, “Tourism has been a steady presence in this county for a very long time. The area has already accepted tourism.”
But tourists often end up being smitten by the area, and then they move in. Every time one of those tourists moves in, it subtracts affordable housing stock for hotel maids, cooks, groundskeepers and others who form the backbone of the local travel and tourism industry. As property values increased, the average home in Wasatch County is now three times higher than those along the Wasatch Front.
Before the Heber Valley took off, many people who worked in Park City hotels and restaurants lived in Wasatch County as an affordable alternative with a short commute. Heber Valley has benefited from that phenomenon because some of those people have brought the experience they gained in Park City hotels and restaurants. But now that Heber Valley is no longer affordable to the service-worker class, city officials are wondering if more workers will be forced to commute from Provo and Salt Lake City. And, with no mass transit available, the new growth poses another challenge.
A Change of Culture
Change in the Heber Valley will not only affect the size and number of buildings, but could also end up mixing up the conservative demographics generally found in rural and bedroom communities of Utah. The type of growth the Heber Valley is experiencing and may yet experience is rarely planned and seldom comfortable. “We are not a planning society by any means. We elevate other values and then submit to the consequences,” says Phillip Emmi, a professor at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning.”
As the Heber Valley moves forward in trying to deal with the increasing affections of the outside world and their consequences, Kennard says he is reminded every day, “It’s always a balancing act. I don’t care who you are or where you’re at. You have to make sure it’s reasonable and manage it the best you can.”