In west Weber County, a power struggle to control land use and development

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In west Weber County, a power struggle to control land use and development (Photo: KUTV)

Some residents in the west half of Weber County are so upset by recent development trends, they intend to incorporate a new city to gain more control over the process.

The area west of Ogden contains lots of small and midsize farms. Along the Wasatch Front, it represents one of the last frontiers for development — or one of the last havens from it, depending on one’s point of view.

“Right now we feel like we don’t have any say-so in our planning and zoning process,” said Lance Peterson, a resident in the unincorporated area between West Haven and Plain City.

“Why not govern ourselves? And plan our own future and our own destiny?”

Peterson is one in a group who are upset with recent development trends approved by either the county or West Haven City. They see large swaths of land being flipped rather quickly from farming to higher density housing or commercial development.

“We have commercial right on the corner here, no buffer,” Peterson said, motioning down the street from his home. “Right across the street, you’ll see black Angus cattle and longhorn steers.”

Proponents of the new city have placed the issue on the November ballot for residents to decide. Support isn’t unanimous.

“They want to look at the corn field behind their house and they think that that farmer is going to live a thousand years,” said Tom Favero, a third generation farmer who grows mostly alfalfa and hay. “The public doesn’t think that farmers are business people, but farming is probably the number one business in the U.S.”

Favero and others in a similar position fear that anti-development sentiment may limit their own property rights if and when they choose to sell their land.

Favero doesn’t have family ready and able to take over his enterprise when he retires, meaning his land is essentially his 401-K. He says land zoned for higher density housing is worth about three times as much to land developers as land zoned for farming or less dense housing.

Planning decisions could change the value of his and others’ farmland by hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars.

“I don’t think anyone should infringe on anyone’s property rights as far as the value of the property,” he said.

Peterson — who also farms — says Favero’s worries are unfounded. Planners of the new city, should voters approve it, would keep farmers' best interests in mind.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation and false rumors spreading around,” he said, “one of which is that the new city wants to control farmers and what they can do with their ground — when they sell it and change the zoning. Absolutely false.”

Favero says some landowners may make a move to be annexed by West Haven or Plain City before the vote in November. He feels those cities and their planning departments represent more of a known commodity.

The mayor of Plain City, John Beesley, told 2News Tuesday he’s already receiving petitions from landowners seeking to join Plain City. Some land could be officially brought in as soon as March.

The other vexing question for voters deciding on their civic future is services. Can a newly formed West Weber City offer comparable services for comparable levels of taxation? Different people will offer different answers.