Heber braces for big-box battle
Big-box development is knocking on the door in Heber City.
Thursday the Heber City Council is scheduled to hold one last meeting, and perhaps vote, on an ordinance to approve a new commercial zone that would pave the way for retail giants like Wal-Mart.
That is making some local merchants, like Edie Roberts, the manager of Heber’s popular King’s department store, extremely nervous.
As currently proposed, the commercial zone would be applied to several 30-acre parcels including one adjacent to Heber’s Main Street at the south end of town. The ordinance would allow for 200,000 square-foot stores that may be as tall as 55 feet
"These discussions have been going on for two years," said Mark Anderson, Heber City Manager. "Summit County has turned down similar proposals in the past with regards to big-box retail, it’s a controversial subject."
"The adoption of the ordinance will be discussed," Anderson said. However, "it will not apply to any specific properties. The ordinance is a result of adopted design criteria and the city recently adopted commercial zones."
Anderson says residents’ and the council’s opinions are mixed.
"With the introduction of large-scale retail, if it’s approved, it would have an impact on the businesses in the community," Anderson said. "Some would be positive and some would be negative."
Boyer, the same company that developed Redstone Town Center in Park City, has been in discussion with several bigger companies including Wal-Mart.
"It’s fair to say that Boyer is talking to more than one large retailer," Anderson said, "and Wal-Mart is one of them, and a home improvement center, that is one of them."
Roberts thinks opening the door to big retailers like Wal-Mart may destroy the small department stores in town.
"I’ve been in two areas, Winnemucca (Nev.) and Caldwell, Idaho where it has closed King’s up," Edie said. "It completely ruined the downtown area of both places. In Evanston (Wyo.) Wal-Mart went in there and it totally closed the downtown there too."
Roberts said old "mom and pop" stores took the brunt of the Wal-Mart beating.
"As soon as Wal-Mart came in they closed up," Roberts said. "They didn’t even wait around, they just bolted right up."
"In Winnemucca it was really sad because after Wal-Mart came in it took a lot of grocery business and the downtown was almost a ghost town, except for the casinos," she added. "A lot of those businesses are gone forever. All of these towns have just struggled."
Roberts says Wal-Mart does bring some jobs to the community, but the end result is a loss of more jobs and the atmosphere of the small-town community.
"It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul if you ask me," Roberts said. "It cheapens the community, which is sad, and I’d hate to see that here because it’s such a wonderful community.
Roberts moved to Heber because of the lack of big-box stores and commercial development.
"I think that one of the things I’ve been attracted to was the beautiful city and its uniqueness," Roberts said. "It’s different and fun and it’s not your box-type businesses that, to me, make this a very desirable place."
Roberts doesn’t want to see Heber suffer the same fate as she witnessed in Winnemucca.
"I think you pay a price," Roberts said. "There are other options."
If this ordinance passes, the potential positive for people in Heber City is they won’t have to travel to Provo, Park City or Salt Lake for stores they can’t locate in Heber, Anderson said.
A year and a half ago, the city council adopted a cap on the size of retail of 65,000 square feet.
"Since that time, there’s been work on an ordinance that would allow larger retail on certain conditions," Anderson said.
To approve it, however, qualifications such as the design, landscape and how it facilitates pedestrian access weigh in the decision.
"It’s where the intent is," Anderson said. "How do we maximize the benefit and minimize the damaging impacts? The ordinance is a result of adopted design criteria and the city recently adopted commercial zones. There are things you want to be able to have control of to maximize the benefit and minimize negative impact."
The meeting, Anderson says, was scheduled after a previous public meeting.
"The public hearing has already been held," Anderson said. "They talked about it at the last meeting and wanted to support it. But, the people didn’t really understand the ramifications of the ordinance."
Anderson says if people have an opinion, they should let their elected officials know, otherwise, it will be in the hands of the city council, and they could vote on it Thursday.
"The planning commission did recommend that city council adopt the ordinance," Anderson said.
On Thursday, Heber will visit the issue at least one more time.
"Heber City is considering this and a meeting will be held," Anderson said. "Certainly this has been a topic of conversation for months and there are those that vocally oppose and vocally support it."
"The city council will weigh and do what’s best for the community," Anderson said.
The meeting to discuss the mixed-use residential commercial zone in Heber City will take place Feb. 13 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Senior Citizen’s Center. The location may change, however. For more information, or to check on the meeting’s location, call the Heber City at 654-4830.
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