Smart-growth group unwanted
September 22, 2009
Some mayors on the East Side of Summit County do not appear interested in retaining a firm to help facilitate discussions about growth, which can get testy.
Summit County Councilman Chris Robinson has encouraged the mayors of Francis, Kamas, Oakley, Coalville and Henefer to hear a presentation from the non-profit Envision Utah.
"If there isn’t any interest after you have heard an informed presentation on it, then so be it," Robinson told the mayors at a council meeting Sept. 16.
Envision Utah, a Salt Lake City-based think tank, works with governments on strategies for managing growth.
"Envision Utah works with communities to explore their own values and their own hopes for the future. We’ve got a proven track record, not just here in Utah, but throughout the country, of being able to bring communities together and explore alternative ideas and make more informed decisions about how they want to grow," said Alan Matheson, executive director of Envision Utah.
But facilitators are not needed in his North Summit hamlet, Henefer Mayor Randy Ovard said.
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"We’re not interested," Ovard said.
He agreed, however, to listen to Envision Utah if officials in Summit County arrange the meeting.
Still, Ovard said he does not favor new laws making it more difficult for someone to develop their land.
"We have got enough red tape to fight through to get to do anything with a piece of property," Ovard said.
However, that is not the mission of Envision Utah, Matheson said in a telephone interview.
"We don’t come up with a perceived notion of what should happen. We just want to make sure there is a process that is conducted transparently, openly and with integrity, so that the public can explore their own future," Matheson said. "We’ve all seen examples of what happens in communities that just sit back and let growth take its course. The communities that are more proactive and think about what makes sense for economic development and quality of life are the ones that end up with the kind of place where their children want to stay."
Coalville Mayor Duane Schmidt said he is also willing to meet with Envision Utah representatives.
"It’s worth an hour to hear the sales pitch," Schmidt said. "It never hurts to listen. The county and the cities should be working together."
A lack of growth is one Coalville’s toughest challenges, Schmidt said.
"Our growth rate is lower than what the inflation rate is and when you have a situation like that you end up financially going backward," Schmidt said. "For a lot of the people whose families have been here for multi-generations, they realize that we need to have some growth in the community, and it can be difficult for some of the families that have been here forever."
Meanwhile, the Snyderville Basin is expected to grow rapidly and sessions with Envision Utah may help government officials prepare for an influx of new residents.
"We start from the premise that growth is happening, so it’s more important to talk about how we grow rather than whether we grow," Matheson said. "There are things that can be done to preserve the values that people have as growth occurs. Our process is really about facilitating a public conversation so that the residents have more control over the future of their communities."
Envision Utah is currently working with many divergent interests on a year-long planning effort in the Wasatch canyons.
"Sometimes it’s nice to get someone from the outside in, who can be a neutral facilitator, who doesn’t bring in the baggage of political disputes or have a dog in the fight," Matheson said.
The price varies for working with the group, he explained.
"What we typically do is help a community raise money from a wide range of sources so nobody is bearing a heavy burden," Matheson said. "There are ways to make this affordable by bringing lots of partners into the process."