Summit County’s rural future may be at stake
Having conducted town hall meetings for several years, planning commissioners are getting close to making a recommendation about a new mission statement that may guide development on the East Side of Summit County.
The Eastern Summit County Planning Commission has also embarked on a rewrite of its goals and objectives for land use, which will balance private property rights against the desires of the whole community.
Commissioners have committed to a transparent public process and there is a hearing to discuss the changes today at 7 p.m. at the Summit County Courthouse, 60 N. Main Street in Coalville.
"After we take this last round of public comment I guess we’ll be evaluating and deciding what to do," Eastern Summit County Planning Commissioner John Blazzard said. "I think we’re getting fairly close. It just depends on what we hear from the public here right away."
The feedback so far "has been all over the board," Blazzard said.
"Clear from wanting a lot more development to not wanting any," he said. "Different people have different desires for what they want to have happen in the county."
Aging property owners who once raised hay and cattle say their children and grandchildren are not interested in working the land. Farmers and ranchers on the East Side of Summit County are being pressured to sell out.
However, because development densities on the East Side of Summit County are low it is difficult for some landowners to make deals with real-estate investors hoping to subdivide the family farm into building lots.
It could take several weeks for the Planning Commission to finalize the changes to its mission statement, goals and objectives. The Summit County Council must approve the changes.
"This is the big picture, broad strokes kind of stuff that defines how we do land use," Summit County planner Adryan Slaght said. "The mission statement and the goals and objectives are what are supposed to guide the general plan and the development code."
Goals of the Planning Commission could include: protecting the rural environment of eastern Summit County, promoting a mix in housing types, establishing expectations about levels of service that are compatible with the county’s ability to serve remote areas and planning policies that promote proper stewardship of natural resources.
Keeping housing affordable is significant to some eastsiders, Slaght said.
"There were some folks who were saying you could increase affordability on the East Side of the county by increasing density," Slaght said.
Others said new development in the unincorporated areas may need to include some work force housing as a requirement of approval. People who attended a public hearing Jan. 6 in Kamas also asked whether the county is missing out on some opportunities at economic development while trying to keep the East Side of Summit County rural.
Tom Clyde said his family owns about 700 acres of open land near his house in Woodland.
"I’d love to see it stay pretty much the way it is," Clyde said. "I think it’s unrealistic to expect it to stay agricultural just given the realities of the agriculture markets."
In Summit County, earning a living as a farmer is "really, really tough," Clyde said.
"For those people who have worked really hard and are now 80 years old and don’t want to be up when it’s below zero feeding cows every morning, I can see how they would want to get out. I’m real sympathetic to their plight," Clyde said. "They want to get the value out of the ground and the value isn’t agriculture. If nobody in the family wants to be a rancher, the property has to get sold."
But zoning on his land only allows him to build one house on 160 acres, Clyde explained.
"It’s a terribly difficult issue and I know those hearings have been very heated," he said. "I guess if the subdivision or development approach becomes inevitable, I’d at least like it to be high quality, regulated stuff that doesn’t result in somebody sticking a trailer park next door to my property."
It is difficult to subdivide land in many areas of eastern Summit County where one housing unit may be developed on 40 acres of land.
"Even in a depressed market nobody’s going to pay what the land is worth and try to pay that debt back raising cows, because you just can’t do that," Clyde said. "There won’t be enough hay raised between now and the second coming to amortize the value of our property."
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Councilor Glenn Wright estimated that the ability to provide renewable energy sources for county power will cost the average Summit County resident $0.70 per year above current costs.