Editor: It’s election time and there might still be some candidates talking about property rights. When they do, wonder just whose property rights they are talking about? It is likely their own, the rights of a family member or a long-time friend. What they are really saying is that the right to rezone for higher density or more profitable use belongs to them and them alone. This attitude ignores the reality that we all have property right. Even the renter has a stake in whether some rezoning decision affects his quality of life has a say.
In 2014, the county council voted narrowly to rezone the North Fields from RA20 which would allow one residence per 20 acres to one per 10. The planning commission and the council held the requisite public hearing. The opposition to the measure was overwhelming but the officials were unmoved. In both of these hearings, someone would say that they believed that if you wanted to control what is done with property, you must own it. Well, there is a reason for zoning. It’s to protect the value of property by insuring that a neighbor does not use his property in a way that devalues your property.
When I collected signatures challenging the rezoning of the North Fields, a drug store cowboy responded to my invitation to sign the petition by stating he believed in property rights. I replied that I did too. I then told him that I’d contacted Correction Corporation of America about building a medium security prison for women on the 20 acres I had an option on in the North Fields. Fair disclosure. I was lying. He then pointed to a member of the county council who happened to be nearby and said he would stop me from doing it. A senior citizen who was listening to this noted that this man just made the case for zoning.
I’ve updated my prison example. A friend of mine is a retired commodities trader. He tells me that Costco and others are looking for farmers to produce the chickens using new techniques to keep the price low. I’m told that these farms produce an odor that can be sensed miles away. So, lets place on of these farms smack dab in the middle of the North Fields where that 15+ MPH wind out of the Southwest would create a stench that would be nauseating through most of the properties in Valley Hills, the apartments along 40, the popular restaurant on 40 etc.
We all have property rights. In our valley today, those rights are under pressure by annexations and rezoning where more and more people are flooding our valley changing it for all of us. We are getting noise, pollution, traffic, stoplights, and higher taxes. Everyone of us has property rights, not just the developer or raw land owner. We need to strike a balance. Think about that when you mail in your ballot.
Growth and Densification in Heber Valley
Editor: Heber Valley is the Jewel of the Wasatch. We are so blessed to live in this beautiful place, surrounded by majestic mountains, sparkling lakes and rivers, clean air, and most importantly, room to breathe. Whether we drive into town from Park City, Provo, or Strawberry, we are treated to pastoral fields, ringed with post-and-rail fences and spotted with horses, cattle, goats, sheep, and even the occasional llama or ostrich. Where there is not livestock there is inevitably hay, alfalfa, or clover for fodder for these animals. I love the first alfalfa harvest, seeing the bales scattered across the freshly cut field.
Our farmers and ranchers are not without their challenges. Eking out a meager existence on this land is something their forebears did, and though many would love to continue the tradition, downward price pressure is mounting from large livestock and other farming corporations, government regulation, and the ever-present enticements of Salt Lake and out-of-state developers wanting to pay top dollar for their fields.
While I am a proponent of free-market economics and do recognize a landowner’s right to sell land as they see fit, I also balance this belief with the community’s interest in maintaining the area according to the vision, look, and feel that it desires. For example, if the community doesn’t want slaughterhouses, large apartment complexes, storage units, or tall power lines in a given area, it has the right to maintain existing guidelines that enforce this desire. In these cases, the community’s desire moderates a landowner’s rights. In our valley, those guidelines are defined in zoning and general plan regulations. Our beloved North Fields, along with the other fields running adjacent to the Provo River, have been preserved for years in large part due to these zoning regulations. However, zoning is constantly subject to pressure and change by lobbyists working for developers and landowners.
Our agricultural zoning in North Fields recently was densified from one house per 20 acres to one house per 5 acres by the county council, led by council chair Greg McPhie and vice-chair Kendall Crittenden. The residents were so outraged that they passed a ballot referendum in November 2016, 74% to 26%, overturning the council’s action. The landowners in the North Fields are working on forming their own town to further subvert the will of valley residents. Meanwhile, Greg and Kendall are again leading the council to adjust the county general plan boundaries of the “Central” and “South” county planning zones, which allows further densification in these areas.
This is, of course, a problem that cannot be solved simply by continuing the zoning and planning fight, for big money will always win out with professional lobbyists and full-time lawyers to navigate the byzantine regulations of government. The only permanent solution to preserving the open space we so highly value in our community is to band together and purchase land that we wish to preserve. Summit County has done quite a bit of this. We have explored this option in our valley and have many willing participants, but an open space bond requires county government approval to be placed on the ballot. In March our county council voted to do so, with chair Greg McPhie and vice chair Kendall Crittenden as the only dissenting votes.
Why do these men appear so eager to push growth and densification on our valley? Are they representing the will of the people? I don’t know that answer. However, another couple of local issues may be instructive: that of the 110’ overhead power lines that Heber Light & Power wants to punch through the middle of our valley, and the Riley/Megan Probst request for rezone of their property just west of the church on South Field & 650 South from A-20 to RA-5, which is another 20-acre to 5-acre minimum change. It so happens that the Probst property is on one of the proposed power line routes. Probst also happens to own Summit Line Construction, which installed the power lines from Coyote Lane to the Heber City boundary this past year. Greg McPhie is the Utility Sales Manager for Codale Electric Supply, which supplies transmission power poles to projects of this nature. At the very least this appears a significant conflict of interest and Mr. McPhie should recuse himself from any decision or input on the Probst property rezone request or the power line discussion.
We are currently in an active primary election for two open seats on the county council. Choosing correctly could moderate the direction of the current county council. Voting closes on June 26. I have heard a couple of these candidates publicly state that they support the previous general plan boundary, support maintaining A-20 zoning, and most importantly, support transparency in government and actual respect for the will of the people. Please research the candidates and find out who represents your view. Then go vote.