Why it matters
Development IS going to happen here, because homes are needed for the growing population of Heber Valley. But how much development is good and necessary, and what kind of atmosphere should it create for the Valley?
How do we achieve balance between providing homes for people and not destroying the reasons that folks want to live here in the first place?
Perhaps you're concerned, but you are wondering what the most important issues are. You're not alone! This can be a new thing for many people. One of our main goals at Friends of Heber Valley is to help citizens become informed about all the changes happening here.
Here are just some of the many issues and topics for discussion and thought:
PRESERVING OPEN SPACE WAS THE NUMBER ONE CONCERN of citizens who helped create "Envision Heber 2050."
We believe that the Heber citizens meant green, open space. When developers say they are including "open space" (perhaps around 30%) in their plans, their definition of open space includes roads, parking lots, strips of grass between apartment buildings, and in the case of the Highlands, a 1000-seat amphitheater. What does this do to maintain the beloved atmosphere of Heber Valley?
The North Fields are the jewels of Heber Valley and the link to its rural heritage. The North
Fields are to be protected, according to the citizens who created Envision Heber 2050.
As you can see from the graph above (from Envision Heber 2050) over 95% of the citizens called for conservation of the North Fields, while only 4.39% felt there was no need.
Because the City is situating a large portion of its population growth "across" Highway 40, this does not mean this growth will not seriously change and damage the North Fields.
During City Council meetings in 2020, Heber City entertained annexing properties WEST of Highway 40 (in the historic North Fields), and seriously considered developers' plans to collect stormwater from the NVOZ for ultimate discharge into streams of the North Fields and/or the pristine Provo River.
Importantly, developers may buy up irrigation water traditionally used in the North Fields
to provide water for these massive developments being considered by Heber City. This
would result in the drying up of the North Fields and paving the way for development to follow.
Finally, the City may push for traffic bypass roads to go through the North Fields in order to handle the vastly increased amount of traffic.
How high of a priority is building affordable/attainable housing for the current residents of Heber? What are citizens willing to give up in exchange for affordable/attainable housing, and exactly what do those terms mean? The vast majority of the housing being approved is not "affordable housing." And there are problems with what little is designated as "affordable."
In the Highlands Development (part of the North Village Overlay Zone), where almost 1500 housing units are proposed, only 10% are designated as "affordable." That's less than 150 units, yet the Valley will still get the fallout from thousands of units of high-density development.
We need to know when developers talk about including "affordable housing," exactly what percentage of the proposed housing becomes actually "affordable" to Heber City residents, and will Heber City residents have priority access to it? Otherwise, for example, Park City landlords could buy it up to house their employees from ski resorts and hotels. And what protections will be put into place to maintain the housing as affordable? At another development in Heber, the deed restrictions expire after two years, and then the housing could revert to market pricing.
Most people do not want to see Heber become a bedroom community for Park City.
Will there be enough jobs IN Heber Valley to provide employment for a population double or triple the current size?
Population - Shooting beyond the mark of Envision Heber
Using the state's own projections, Envision Heber 2050 planned for a population of 31,395 by 2050.
The 2020 census estimates the Heber population to be 17,894. With the addition of ONLY the approximately 7,300 housing units which have already been approved to be built in the next thirty years, and assuming an average of four people per household (which is probably conservative for Utah), that would bring the population to nearly 50,000 people in Heber Valley by 2050, well over the projection in Envision Heber.
With the additional developments that are now seeking City annexation and high-density approval, that number would increase by thousands more.
This is a small valley. The rate at which Heber City is approving population growth is unsustainable without severe degradation of the quality of life.
Pollution and Traffic
We need clean water, clean air, and traffic management. Vigilance over these issues is more important than ever. Have ALL NECESSARY STUDIES been done to allow the population of this Valley to double or triple while maintaining its environment so it is a healthy place for people to live?
The Provo River is in grave danger of irreversible pollution from the stormwater runoff which will come from these developments.
Relationships Between the City and Developers
The Heber Mayor, City Council, and City Staff are good people, often tasked with solving difficult problems, which they individually sometimes approach in different ways. The bottom line is that the more residential units developers build, the more money they make. Developers are a formidable force and influence on the City.
Is Heber City LISTENING AND RESPONDING to the concerns of its citizens, or yielding to pressure from developers?
Does the proposed annexation code for the North Village Overlay Zone favor developers or the residents of Heber Valley?
Why the rush to approve so many more units now (ie: the North Village Overlay Zone), when over 7,300 units were already approved in 2020? Some City Council members and Developers argue that "We've been working on these plans for a year!" Or "We've been working on these plans for eighteen months!" Once these approvals are given THERE WILL BE NO GOING BACK. Isn't it worth taking the time to do it right?
It is common for developers to receive entitlements from cities and then "flip" the property, selling it to other developers. What binding assurances will the City receive from developers that the promises they make in exchange for entitlements will actually be kept?
How things are going to look
The point is, we don't know. And that's a problem. We won't really know until the buildings are up and the traffic is felt. That is why we should not over-approve and over-entitle developers' plans now. A few last things to consider...
Do you feel that clustering higher buildings (ie: apartments, condos) with parks or some sort of open space (real open space, not parking lots) in between is preferable to single-family homes? Larger buildings create fewer "rooftops," but visually can create a more crowded look.
What heights do you feel are acceptable for multi-unit buildings? 3, 4, 5 stories?
As an example, the Best Western hotel at the south end of town is a four-story building. How many buildings like that would you like to see clustered together in the North Village Overlay Zone (NVOZ)?
The Wasatch Commons apartments are also four stories. How do you feel about seeing many more buildings like those, or another story higher, across from the North Fields? The "Jewels of Heber Valley" on one side of the road and something that looks like Orem or Lehi on the other?
Heber City Council's pace of development approval
In addition to the developments listed above, Heber City is poised to annex the area along Highway 40, north of the UVU area and past the intersection of Highway 40 and River Road, called the North Village.
The land use for this area was partially approved by Wasatch County in 2009. Developers have now gone to the City and asked for annexation and MANY MORE units of high-density development and commercial space. Heber City planners and City Council have created a zoning code called the North Village Overlay Zone (NVOZ), which they approved on March 16th, 2021.
Groundwater sensitivity to proposed developments
This report was released earlier this year by Wasatch County and contains important information about environmental concerns related to the NVOZ and other developments in the county. Please take a look! Much of Heber City's water supply (and that of other Valley citizens) comes from a
Class 1a aquifer. In its report, Wasatch County names the northern end of Heber Valley, which the City and developers have targeted for high density development, as having the highest sensitivity to potential groundwater contamination because of its high soil permeability, high water table and other natural features. How do you feel about high density development in this area? Let us know!
Independent Report on the NVOZ
In response to the concerns of the citizens of Heber Valley about the NVOZ, Friends of Heber Valley (FOHV) has hired Bruce Parker, AICP, a Principal at Planning and Development Services, LLC of Salt Lake City (http://www.utahplanning.com/).
Mr Parker presented us with his findings in a report, which you can access here.
You will note that Mr. Parker has concerns about the North Village Overlay Zone. As he states in the summary:
The NVOZ employs the Equivalent Residential Unit (“ERU”) concept to establish use intensity standards. The NVOZ defines and calculates ERUs very differently from the already established standards of Heber City. The NVOZ provides ERU values for various uses identical to the ERU values set by Wasatch County. However, significant differences exist because of how the NVOZ defines and classifies uses and the total exemption provided for commercial activities. The NVOZ will create a larger population and commercial square footages than allowed by the County’s plan. The NVOZ provides ERU standards that depart significantly from the standards established by Heber City and accepted engineering practice. This Report also argues that the development incentives offered by the NVOZ will negatively impact the City’s vision for its downtown. Additionally, if the properties on the western side of Highway 40 are not preserved, including the North-West and South-West corners of River Road and Highway 40, a development precedent is established. That precedent will ignite “southern end valley” type sprawl and undermine the Heber City Envision 2050, General Plan. (Italics and emphasis added).
In light of the unexpected changes to the NVOZ proposed by Mr. Johnston at the February 2, 2021 City Council meeting, Friends of Heber Valley feels that what the public was previously told comprised the NVOZ has been significantly upended. Please read Mr. Parker's full report for complete information. (We note that Mr. Parker mistook the "V" in NVOZ for "Valley" instead of "Village," and this will be corrected). Also, Mr. Parker recognizes that the NVOZ code includes a density value identical to the County's that is not in its ERU chart and appears that it will be used in a different way.