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Heber City's Growth Spurt Prompts Talk of Open-Space Plan

Heber City's Growth Spurt Prompts Talk of Open-Space Plan

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HEBER CITY, Utah (AP) -- The Wasatch County Council is on the verge of executing its first open-space preservation plan as Heber City's record growth spreads through an idyllic mountain valley.

According to new state and federal estimates, Wasatch County is growing at a pace equivalent to Washington County -- the state's fastest growing area.

Up until this point while everyone could agree there is a value in the county's sprawling pastures below the peaks of Mount Timpanogos, they weren't ready to use tax dollars to buy the area's rapidly disappearing open spaces.

After about 18 months of study, the County Council's open-space committee has created a preliminary proposal that would include zoning tools and conservation fees aimed at preserving open space. The council is expected to adopt some form of the plan in coming weeks, but no date has been set for a vote.

The plan would institute conservation impact fees on new development so that Wasatch County and its municipalities someday could buy open space.

"It's based on a free-market system," said County Councilman Steve Farrell, who heads the committee. "But we're moving slow because we want something that works."

Meanwhile, residents like Amy Zimmerman are alarmed by the continued speed of development. Zimmerman is particularly concerned about a proposed 71-acre housing project planned for pastures next to Heber City known as the North Fields. "With this building boom, we're concerned about what's going to be left," Zimmerman said. "We'd like community leaders to take a long-term vision of what this community is going to be."

There are a number of tools for saving open space, said Wendy Fisher, executive director of the nonprofit Utah Open Lands. Besides charging developers impact fees, planners can apply zoning, development agreements and conservation easements.

"But what we have found is that if you want to save (large tracts of) open space, you have to buy it," she said. "A bond opens up possibilities in a way no other mechanism can." Once approved by voters, bond money can be enhanced by federal and state matching programs, Fisher said.

But the new plan does not contemplate asking residents to bond for open-space funding, said Annie McMullen, an open-space committee member. Committee members fear that taxpayers might find that hard to swallow after approving a $60 million bond last fall for a high school.

Up to this point, Wasatch County residents have hung their hopes for open-space preservation on Heber City officials continuing to deny annexation requests that would allow zone changes for high-density housing, said Mayor Dave Phillips. "Everyone loves open space and hopes the farmers will leave it that way," said Mayor Dave Phillips. "But nobody wants to cut a check for it."

------ Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune,

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