Council Meeting - January 17, 2023
2023 is now underway. We started the new year with our 2-day annual council retreat at the Public Safety building in Heber City. On the first day of the retreat, we heard from Heber City staff and department heads about how things are developing in their individual departments. It was a wonderful opportunity to get together and learn about what each group is doing to keep Heber City running. Most residents probably don't understand how much effort goes into providing the services we use every single day. Kudos to those department heads on the impactful work they are doing.
Day two of the retreat was focused on where we go from here and what our focus needs to be in the year ahead. I believe our emphasis in 2023 should be to strengthen our foundation. The growth we have experienced over the past few years has put a strain on our Building, Engineering, and Planning departments, and the Heber City Police Department is understaffed. I want to make sure we have enough staff to provide the services necessary for the growth we are anticipating over the next 40 years. Our citizens deserve a high level of service when dealing with the City and I want to make sure that we are ready to provide that. It’s also important to make sure we’re not overworking the people who are currently in those positions. Quality of life is important for everyone. We want individuals to find joy in the work they do and appreciate the team that is in place to help them do it. This is my number one priority.
Overall, I believe the retreat was incredibly effective in bringing forward action items that we need to address in the coming year. We are all on the same page regarding the necessary work that lies ahead.
Our first regular meeting of the year was also very productive. We began with a discussion about code updates regarding affordable housing and mixed use residential commercial zones. Affordable housing continues to be a topic that will be discussed for years to come. As Michael Johnston pointed out, it would be very difficult for any of us to purchase our home again at the current values. If you didn't purchase a home before 2018, it's virtually impossible to buy one now at a price that is considered affordable. We realize that we can’t change market forces or the economics of supply and demand. We also understand that there is an influx of people moving to the area who work elsewhere and connect remotely. These folks can usually afford a more expensive home in comparison to those who work here in the Valley. The only way to solve the issue of affordable housing is for Heber City to purchase ground, enter a public-private partnership to construct the homes, and sell those homes at cost with a deed restriction on the amount that home values can increase year-over-year. If left to standard market forces, the homes in this area will never be “affordable.” Fortunately, this plan wouldn’t cost tax dollars because we would be selling the properties and recouping any costs incurred. It would be a huge benefit to city employees, school district employees, and county employees who are currently struggling to find a home in the area. We have hundreds of people working in Heber City who travel from other places to be here, but we would love to have a way for those individuals to be able to live where they work. My goal is to have a project in motion by the end of 2023.
Part of our work meeting also included an item pertaining to a Master Development Agreement (MDA) for the property at 160 W. 500 N. in Heber City. The developers of this property are looking to change what was previously approved. We agreed that instead of trying to cram every unit possible into the space, there needs to be some distance between units, more parking for guests and visitors, and adequate facilities for garbage removal and fire protection. The actual design of the units improved with this submittal going from two stories to three stories, however, each unit would be built on top of a garage instead of relying solely on outdoor parking. Considering the winter we have experienced, that would be a significant improvement. The developer is going to consider our recommendations before bringing back a modified design.
Moving along, we had a closed session pertaining to litigation before our regular meeting. I was tasked with overseeing the thought to begin the meeting, so I relayed a story about a king who placed a rock in the middle of the road and sat by to see who would move it. All sorts of people just passed by the rock, some even complaining as to how incompetent the king was. There was one peasant who stopped, put down the vegetables he had harvested that day, and moved the rock out of the road. Under the rock, he found a purse full of gold coins and a note that said, “This purse is for whoever moves the rock.” I related it to the neighbors and friends who have been so helpful in assisting with snow removal on sidewalks and driveways, helping those who can't help themselves, keeping each other safe in the storms we've had this winter. We desperately need the water this snow brings, and I am thankful for it, but I'm also grateful for our good citizens who take care of each other.
The consent agenda during this meeting had approval of the minutes and approval of the appointments of Don Taylor and Nathanael Adams to the Parks, Open Space, Trails, and Trees Committee, as well as the appointment of Yvonne Barney to the Rural Planning Organization. Before approving the consent agenda, I asked how many people we currently have serving on this committee, and the answer was seven. I'm so grateful for these individuals who step up and serve in any capacity. These positions are important as we continue to work towards achieving goals through planning and careful consideration. Thank you to all who serve on these committees!
We started the general business items with a public hearing to gain input regarding the issuance and sale of not more than $2.5 million of irrigation revenue bonds. This is going to help us add meters to pressurized irrigation throughout Heber City. We live in a desert, so water will always be an issue here, but it’s important for us to step up and do our part to assist in conservation. Fortunately, we have a grant from the state to help pay for a good portion of the future meters.
Next, Mayor Franco presented the “Sasquatch Snow Award of 2023” to the Public Works employees. It was wonderful to have all of them present to celebrate their success in battling this epic snow year. We had more than 24 inches of snow in two days over New Year’s weekend and the work they did to keep the roads clear was incredible. I always enjoy when we’re able to celebrate team members who go above and beyond in their responsibilities. A well-deserved award!
The Heber Leadership Academy came forward to present two proposed projects. The first one was to promote the “Flip the Strip” initiative. This is the idea that you can take the grass in your park strip, remove it, and replace it with drought resistant plants, rocks, and a more sustainable aesthetic. They asked the city for $6,000 to implement their idea on a section of park strip that is along Highway 40 in front of the Public Safety building. We felt this would be a good idea, so they will bring the item back to another meeting for a budget amendment approval. This construction should take place in early spring.
The second project presented pertained to a welcome website for people moving into the Valley. One member of the team discussed moving here four years ago and needing resources. There are many things that are specific to Heber City and Wasatch County that they would've liked to know, such as where to purchase tickets for the County Fair or Demolition Derby and where to buy a Christmas tree permit. We have not yet determined who will host this website, but I appreciate the time and effort these individuals have put into improving their leadership skills.
The Heber City Cemetery Administration Building project is also moving forward. There's been a lot of time and effort put into the design of the building, along with the columbarium that will soon be available for the storing of cremated remains. It is a beautiful facility that will truly be an asset to the Heber City Cemetery. We want to make sure the cemetery is sustainable and able to serve the needs of Heber City residents for years to come. I'm happy with the work that has been done to this point and look forward to the future construction. We gave direction to proceed with firming up a budget to move forward, and the cemetery will be offering presales on the available spaces in the columbarium soon.
We also received an update from the Planning Department on current applications and where we sit in comparison to previous years. It appears we are about average for where we have been on those requests. Every meeting is always a great reminder of what projects our planners are dealing with behind the scenes. I've been asked a few times about some vacant properties where buildings have been recently demolished, and I know there are plans for each of those properties to be redeveloped soon.
The next topic of discussion was the airport layout plan. I recently attended the open house meeting and felt the overall tone was optimistic. There were a few individuals who still had questions, and hopefully they were addressed, but the feeling in the room was positive. It’s clear that officials have listened to the community and are moving forward in a way that is reasonable. What I really want to express is that the airport layout plan is not showing an expansion of the Heber Valley Airport. The developable area of the airport will not be larger than it is right now. In fact, once the airport layout plan is put into effect, there will be much less developable property. After many years of hard work, it’s good to see some direction in planning that is responsible and takes the community's concerns into consideration. This was not an action item, but there was unanimous support for moving forward with a final airport layout plan. We plan to vote on this at our regular meeting on February 21st.
The last item we discussed was adoption of an ordinance amending Section 307 of the C-2 and C-4 design standards. Our code was a little stringent with regard to commercial buildings needing to have certain sign design standards on all four sides of the building. The planning commission sent back a recommendation that this be adjusted to remove the burden of expense from the commercial property owners. I favor an environment that is conducive to small business operations, and I appreciate the small business owners who were willing to speak up and voice their concerns on this topic. I know we will still have beautiful buildings that are aesthetically pleasing without hindering the growth of small businesses.
Overall, these meetings were a wonderful start to the new year! I look forward to a great 2023 as I continue to serve the community as a member of the Heber City Council. Also, this year there are 3 city council seats up for election. If you ever thought about running and would like to know what it is like serving on the council feel free to reach out to me.
D. Scott Phillips
Heber City Council