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Take This Growth … Please
Even if Heber Valley remains true to its roots, there is still some question as to how much control the locals can exert over the growth process. “Outsiders” are falling in love with the place. No matter how responsibly the area comes by its growth, the inevitable challenges of size will show up: Housing for various income levels, road construction and maintenance, school construction, the general headaches of municipal infrastructure. Sometimes those issues can only be remedied through responding to growth, which then invites more growth. For example, major improvements are planned to deal with traffic in the Heber Valley and Highway 40 heading to Provo Canyon.
The improvements in Wasatch County are meant to help with growth, but as the U’s Bartholomew points out, “any time you increase a road out of a major area, it increases commuter traffic. Every time you improve a road, [you invite commuter traffic]. That’s what the real-estate market depends on.”
And sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. “Wal-Mart is a great example of that,” says County Manager Davis. “Two years ago, we did a study that said most people didn’t want it. Two years later, we’re building it.”
Even if Heber City and Midway were to rein in growth, the area of the Jordanelle Reservoir Basin could be “larger than Heber City ever dreamed of being,” says Dahmen of the Chamber of Commerce. Furthermore, Davis says, Wasatch County faces litigation from unincorporated areas that are pushing for incorporation to skirt open-space and zoning ordinances, usually with developers behind the push. “Investment groups want to do what they want to do,” he says.
Wasatch County, Heber City and Midway have all conducted surveys and sought community involvement, which indicates the top priority is to preserve open space. After all, if developers eat up that space, and take with it the natural beauty of the area, the area’s growth will destroy the very thing that attracted tourists, new development—and the associated tax windfall—in the first place.
And then the mantra starts sounding a lot like the one heard in Park City. Let Bartholomew repeat it: “Before long, people say, ‘It used to be nice, but now it’s overrun.’”
The local governments have passed open-space ordinances, and Midway even had a six-month moratorium on new projects in 2006 while it tried to sort out issues surrounding growth. Bartholomew applauds those measures, but says they would have been more effective far earlier. “What they needed some time ago was some sense of boundaries. If it had been possible 20 years ago, they should have tried to create urban growth.” But then, 20 years ago, locals were making fun of Fuller for building the condos presumably nobody wanted, smack in the middle of farmland.
Also at play in the valley is this tricky piece of the growth puzzle: People who benefit from the growth—transplants, tourists and new business owners—can be more anti-progress than the old-timers who can stand to cash in on the sale of their farm tracts. People who “discover” Heber Valley often want to be the last ones there and the first ones to close the doors to others.
“People come in and see the growth and complain, but they’re part of the problem,” says Midway Mayor Connie Tatton. “Change is difficult, not only for the old-timers, but the new residents who moved here for the pastoral setting and then they see it changing.”