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Growing City Will Decide If Big-Box Retail Can Move In

Growing City Will Decide If Big-Box Retail Can Move In



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HEBER CITY, Utah (AP) -- Everyday low prices at what price? That's the debate here in Heber City, where residents will vote Nov. 6 whether to allow a big-box retail development in this fast-growing mountain hamlet.

The ballot question asks voters to decide whether to add a zoning category for retail outlets larger than 60,000 square feet.

Salt Lake City-based developer The Boyer Co. has plans for a 70-acre project anchored by a Wal-Mart store.

Opponents fear Heber City, 50 miles east of Salt Lake City, will lose its local flavor. They dispute the idea that residents want the shopping and restaurants promised by developers.

Studies from Boyer show 90 percent of Heber City residents have shopped at Wal-Mart over the past 90 days and estimate $100 million in retail spending occurs outside city boundaries.

Boyer also points to Heber City's "mind-boggling" growth as justification for development. Census figures show the city grew 15 percent between 2000 and 2003, although retail sales only increased 1.2 percent. "That's what attracted us to Heber," said Wade Williams, Boyer's director of retail development. "You have this tremendous residential growth, but no retailers have moved into that marketplace and retail sales are just flat."

Heber City, population 10,200, has long avoided an influx of chains or strip malls. Local activists like Matt Heimburger say big-box development doesn't have to be inevitable. "The truth is not every town goes this direction," he said. "All the promises Boyer makes about increased (tax revenue), all the promises that are true positives, can be achieved without big box."

Heimburger and others organized "Put Heber Valley First," a group that got the zoning issue on the ballot. They hope to overturn an April vote by the Heber City Council that cleared the way for the project.

"We're not a city in trouble," Heimburger said. "We're a city in demand, we're a city with options and choices, so why we'd rush to do the same old thing and change the rural nature of the place -- I can't figure it out."

Boyer faced a similar referendum in Sandy, a Salt Lake City suburb, in 2005. Opponents lost, 53 percent to 47 percent.

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Information from: Deseret Morning News

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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