County grappling with growth and over-used roads
By James Tilson
MANTI—Sanpete is still “a little slice of paradise,” according to the county’s zoning administrator, but rapid population influx is giving the county growing pains.
Country roads that are starting to carry traffic levels that might be found in small towns, and ordinances that fail to address what is now happening, are among signs the county is facing some challenges.
Last Tuesday, July 16 the Sanpete county commission met with Jeff Bunker and Josh Peterson from the Richfield office of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to get guidance on road issues, such as gates, turning lanes and limited-access roads.
Considering the number of new developments and building permits being granted, the commission “wanted to get it right,” Commission Chairman Scott Bartholomew said.
Commissioner Ed Sunderland added, “We want better guidelines that the county can rely on.”
Referencing a conversation with Ephraim City Manager Shaun Kjar, Sunderland told people at the meeting that many newcomers to the county are commuting to jobs on the Wasatch Front.
Devin Fowles, county zoning administrator, agreed more people are coming to the northern part than to other areas of the county.
Most of the newcomers are building houses in subdivisions that are already on the books, placing demands on dirt and gravel roads in places like Blackhawk, Hideaway Valley and Panorama.
“What’s happening is a lot of little developments are having a cumulative effect on the roads,” Bartholomew said.
“Road maintenance has become an issue,” Fowles added. Without proper maintenance, a road might not be able to handle access for emergency vehicles.
Many of the roads into and around subdivisions are private. But the county is finding that some developments have connected to state or county roads without gaining approval.
Bartholomew explained in many cases a rural property owner, usually a farmer, has a limited-access road into his or her property. But when the property owner decides to subdivide, the limited access designation is no longer valid.
The problem begins when UDOT is not informed of the new subdivision. Bunker and Peterson confirmed UDOT will not automatically study a new subdivision for legal road access unless first approached by either the developer or the county.
If UDOT is contacted, it will order a traffic impact study to see what, if any, improvements to state roads will be necessary to handle the new development.
However, without UDOT approval, the new subdivision will not have legal access to a state or county highway. Without proof of legal access, the owner of the property the access road crosses will be liable for any injury or damage on the road.
All of the commissioners agreed it was important to understand the legality and liability issues surrounding road access. They said from now on, they will make sure new developments get proper approval.
However, that is only one piece of what needs to happen to deal with growth. Commissioner Steve Lund said he and the other commissioners were looking at other counties, to see what worked or didn’t work for them as they expanded infrastructure and public services to handle growth. “We want to be proactive in our efforts,” Lund said.
The county has engaged a BYU graduate program in urban and regional planning to review the county’s planning and zoning ordinances and bring them up to date.
As Fowles explained, “The county is different than it was 40, 30 or even 20 years ago.” But the county ordinances have not had a significant revision in that time.
Once BYU completes its review, the final draft will come to Fowles. He will present it to the commission for review and comment. After that, the revisions will be presented to the public for comment before the final result is presented to the commission for approval.
Bartholomew said the BYU review is “very close” to completion.
Fowles said the county welcomes growth, and the opportunities it represents, but at the same time wants to be prepared.
“Sanpete is a little slice of paradise, and it’s getting found more every day,” he said. “That’s fine, but we need to organize our growth instead of having unorganized chaos.”