This week I had the opportunity to participate in the Agriculture and Open Space workgroup associated with the Valley Visioning project (through Envision Utah and the Utah County Association of Chambers). The purpose of the workgroup was to consider existing data and community feedback to evaluate potential agriculture and open-space scenarios for the next several decades. I joined the workgroup because of my desire to understand the opportunities and strategies to preserve beautiful communities such as ours as well as better understand Utah’s reliance on externally grown food. I am no agriculture expert!
One of the most important resources associated with understanding the state of agriculture is the Utah County Agriculture Toolbox. (I encourage you to read more here!) The Toolbox provides a sophisticated analysis that includes dozens of strategies and addresses threats to success. Two goals addressed by the Toolbox are:
- Work to make and keep agriculture economically and socially viable in Utah County.
- Encourage development patterns and implement measures that support agricultural land and water resources.
Both of the goals were addressed in the workshop and with consideration for population growth we’re anticipating through 2060. One fundamental question was whether we should grow west or south.
Without the context of geography, topography, and soil science, the answers are more difficult. However, we know that the central and southern end of Utah County includes prime land for producing niche, marketable, and needed crops. For example, hillsides that provide air flow and drainage are excellent for apple production. Yet, you won’t find a successful apple orchard in western Utah County anytime soon. Considering where our land best solves known problems is important in our long-term planning. In this example, it seems obvious that the majority of development should occur on the west side of Utah Lake where the land is less viable for farming these specialty crops.
Hobby farms that grow alfalfa do not solve our self-sufficiency issues. We raise plenty of proteins in Utah, yet we produce well below 10% of the fruits and vegetables we’d need should we no longer be able to import from places like California and Mexico. As a state that prides itself on self-sufficiency (both at the state level and in our own homes), adequacy of agricultural space and the designation of how that space is used are important conversations.
That brings up several other scenarios associated with the first goal. First, we value the rights of property owners. No farmer should be forced to keep land that he can no longer farm, isn’t interested in farming, and, potentially, for which his own children are likewise no interested in farming. However, if there were stronger economic models that incentivized current and future farmers, would that change the social attitude and interests about being a farmer? Would we create new farmers if they perceived a good living would accompany their hard work? Use of conservation easements, designated greenbelts, enhanced technology, improved water resources, and increased awareness across the citizenry are strategies that may support the emergence of a new generation of farmers. Farming which is supported by technology and science, and which is respected by the State and advocated by the community, is essential to Utah’s future.
Regarding the second goal, effective use of transferrable development rights (TDRs), as has been demonstrated in Mapleton, prioritizes the preservation and conservation of strategic lands. However, this is a model that has not been effective in many local communities; in fact, this might be something about which Mapleton may educate other municipalities throughout Utah! Complicated as they may be, having the intention set on open spaces empowers city leaders to make decisions consistent with community values. (TDRs for the win!) Additionally, every city should identify priority land that needs to be preserve for agricultural use or open space. Likewise, cities should ensure alignment between their general plan and zoning maps that respect best practices for growth.
In Mapleton, we have some citizens concerned about higher density developments destroying our beautiful views and gobbling up our open spaces. An interesting case study to watch is with the unique PD-1 zone for Mapleton Village through which we’ll have some high density residencies in a designated cluster and then the majority of the acreage are larger single-family lots. The unique angle is that this zone requires a generous 35% total open space. Providing flexibility for developers may, in fact, reduce suburban sprawl and preserve larger open spaces for us to enjoy. Many residents may feel having a home on every third or half acre is “sprawl” – yet, if we understand our zones, we see our residential zones don’t actually require open space – the PD-1, while allowing higher density, requires that 35% and which is achieved through master planning. For some, this may be a question on what is the lesser of the evils; for others this is perceived as an excellent approach to sustaining the “feel” that brought us all here in the first place. Where do you stand?
I’m interested to get your feedback on these topics! What are your thoughts on agriculture and open space? How should we address these in Mapleton to preserve the small-town feel we love?
Our community is passionate. Above all things I’ve learned while meeting with dozens upon dozens of people, it’s that our neighbors share common values grounded upon family and augmented by scenic views, community spirit, and a small-town atmosphere.
This atmosphere nostalgically harkens to days when we left doors unlocked, purchased candy at the penny store, and sat on porches chatting with the neighbors. Yet, I haven’t encountered one person who refuses to accept the inevitability of change either. After all, we have residents who have generations of history in Mapleton and those who move here last week to experience what we all knew already. It’s easy to say that our secret is out – this is an amazing place to live and others (including our own family) want to join us!
The struggle we’re currently encountering (and will like do so for another decade) is how to flex with the times without compromising our views and values. I’ve referenced several specific categories on my website, but want to speak to five specific topics that continuously arise in conversation:
- Property Taxes
- Open Space
There is a perception that we have easily changeable zones that cater to developers. While there have been plenty of zone changes as of late, I believe much of our challenges lie in the confusing language and outdated plans. (The interpretation of “high density” may be from three units per acre to condos!) Additionally, our current General Plan and Zoning Maps may not reflect best practices – consider the intended city center commercial zone that has limited access and low traffic. While I’d love to have a walkable downtown, it’s hard to comprehend its development in the near future and in that location. In this case, a mixed-use, residential, or public-use zone may be more prudent, each option of which would require rezoning. A timely 2019-2020 update to our plans and maps would allow us to more effectively communicate to citizens and developers our vision for Mapleton’s future – at least for the next 5-10 years!
Housing is also a controversial topic in Mapleton. As I mentioned previously, besides confusing definitions, we also have historic perceptions – what’s considered high density to one person may not be the same to their neighbor. For example, as I’ve asked many people to define what is “high density,” I’ve discovered groups of people who perceive anything less than an acre to be high density and others, especially those who have experience living a vertical lifestyle, chuckle knowing three houses per acre is considered “high density.” If only averaging provided a simple solution!
I’m supportive of housing which aligns with an updated general plan that has been vetted my the community. This may include zones of “denser” housing (1/4-1/3 acre) closer to 89 and expanding to larger lots closer to the mountain. Again, this ties back into having current plans, maps, and clear zones that require no altering to achieve the City’s vision. I’m hopeful this year’s strategic planning will establish a sense of permanence to residential zones and communicate such to prospective developers.
Next, I’d like to see us promote accessory apartments. Accessory apartments support efforts related to affordable housing, reducing any push to increase higher-density areas while simultaneously serving a community need – including bringing our families into a pricey environment without breaking their bank accounts. Unfortunately, our accessory apartment permit fees are high ($5500). However, we do not share the same concerns of other nearby cities who are working to reduce accessory apartments due to parking constraints and transient occupancy concerns – we have large lots with ample parking space and our distance from higher education institutions and limited employers reduce the likelihood of transient renters. In addition, use of accessory apartments leaves available acreage to consider open space, agriculture, and parks or other public amenities.
I support the current economic development plan that calls for small-town friendly commercial zones, such as along Highway 89. This would include, for example, a small format grocery store, bakery, florist, salon, and coffee shop; this does not support big boxes. The big box reality is that, at 2750 households, we aren’t currently populated enough to sustain such stores so the likelihood of one coming to town is slim. Besides, we are content with our convenient access to Springville and Spanish Fork. However, appropriate shops – especially those that are easily accessible through a variety of means (including walkability – notice how the trail is growing along 89!) – would be great contributors to our retail base and add conveniences for residents.
One question I’ve heard several times is this: “Can we just pay higher property taxes and avoid retail and higher density housing?” Mapleton has some of the highest property taxes in the State and, although many of our residents can afford this, we have residents who are living on fixed incomes. Increasing their burden would be an insensitive strategy when appropriate alternatives exist. For that reason alone, I would not support increasing property taxes. I would support a well-designed series of shops and offices along 89, however, that would help us diversify our revenue and off-set increases.
There is no doubt we need to cling for dear life to hold onto our open spaces. Fortunately, I’m confident the leadership and citizens are in agreement about how the open space, agriculture, and parks are the heart of our communities. I’ve heard the argument that development is good for the City due to impact fees; the reality is that when impact fees run out, the City is responsible for sustaining that infrastructure (e.g., roads, water) which may or may not be covered entirely by existing property taxes and fees. So, my devil’s advocate side would argue that are not agricultural and open spaces a better deal for the City? (In full disclosure, I haven’t seen the side-by-side comparison, but an open field requires no road or sewer maintenance!) Let’s hold on to those open spaces and always look for ways to sustain the beautiful views that brought us here.
We are at approaching an exciting crossroad and through which we have critical decisions for our City. I’m excited to be involved in that process and confident in my capacity to contribute on behalf of the citizens. I ask for your vote in this year’s City Council election.