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Study: cities and towns must accept growth

Planning experts from Utah State University are scheduled to present a kind of "Choose Your Own Adventure" for Summit County next week.

A few years ago, Professor Richard Toth and some graduate students created an Alternative Futures Plan for the Bear River watershed. The plan looked at trends and statistics for the entire Cache Valley from Idaho to Rich County. The report laid out predictions of what would happen over the next several years if certain planning decisions were made.

Planners in Uintah County admired the report so much they applied for funding to have one done for the Uintah Basin. Money left over, plus some in Summit County Manager Bob Jasper’s budget, were combined to commission such a study for Summit County.

The results will be presented at a joint meeting of the Summit County Council and the East Side Planning Commission on May 18 at 1 p.m. at the Sheldon Richins Building.

On Monday, Toth explained that multiple approaches are possible to solve problems in transportation, development, water supply, ecology, the power grid and more. The purpose of the study is to make sure the solutions chosen by policy makers create the kind of community the majority of residents want.

Last fall, the public at large plus major stakeholders were invited to attend a series of meetings five in all to answer surveys and be interviewed about how they would like their community to look in coming years.

One of Toth’s major findings for the Summit County area is the populace must let go of the idea of a West Side and East Side.

"No one said it’s going to be easy. Everyone has something invested in this landscape," he said. "The only way to address critical water, wildlife and visual quality problems is to work across these boundaries; these little artificial boundaries are not helpful."

The county cannot move forward successfully with the tourism economy in the Basin and the agriculture economy on the East Side believing their interests are at odds with one another.

"You guys are going to die out there," he said.

A lot of the public input meetings centered on how land should look and be used, he explained. The team’s work came from defining what people meant by that.

"Then we built assessment models with the capacity to evaluate any potential alternative future that could impact that goal. The planning commissioners could give us a plan and we run it against the assessment models to see if their wishes are in accord with the local population," he said.

Sometimes the recommendations that result from these studies are politically difficult to implement. But the purpose of the work is to give decision makers the best information possible, he explained.

County Manager Bob Jasper said the team tried to get a sampling of opinions, but the result is not a scientific survey.

"I was disappointed the meetings weren’t better attended," he said Tuesday. "I can’t argue it was a really big democratic action; it was not that representative."

The team is made up of experts, however. Their recommendations are coming from years of study and expertise in planning for Western communities. He anticipates the study being extremely helpful.

The biggest finding was not a surprise, Jasper said, but it will be difficult to implement politically.

"In essence what they’re recommending is to concentrate growth around existing cities," he said. "The county’s general plan talks about wanting to focus growth on existing cities. A problem we have is existing cities don’t want any growth."

Studies from various experts are all predicting Summit County to grow a Mountainland Association of Governments study predicts it to double by 2030 and the incorporated areas don’t want that growth, he said. Park City has surrounded itself with open space. Kamas’ city government says it is only interested in new commercial development preferably retail, Jasper said.

It isn’t legal for the county and municipal governments to just not allow new homes, he said. Landowners have property rights, and those include the right to develop. If developers want to cater to a growing demand, local governments must guide how, not if, that occurs, Jasper explained.

Many of the recent developments in the Basin were approved in out-of-court legal settlements, Jasper said. That was before his time, but unless residents want future growth decided through litigation, an effective plan is necessary, he said.

Lead county planner Adryan Slaght said his office will "definitely" be looking at the plan when making future decisions.

"We’ll use this study to help shape our discussions we’re planning to have with the planning commission on zoning and density primarily on the East Side," he said.


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