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Deep diving into the Herriman Hills Initiative

Posted: 10 October 2015 at 17:50:50

On the mail-in ballot due November 3 in Herriman City is the Herriman Hills Initiative. This is an important referendum for Herriman City that, on the surface, seems quite straightforward but it isn't. There are many layers to this issue and I'm hoping this article will help voters understand better what this initiative represents.

Herriman Hills

I am somewhat torn on the issue because I see the merits of both sides. Ultimately, the Herriman Hills Initiative has some glaring holes or problems that keep it from being as effective as its being sold as.

An overview of the Herriman Hills Initiative

The basis of this initiative is preservation of open space in the hills on the south side of Herriman City. Currently, almost all of the hills are undeveloped. Proponents of the Herriman Hills initiative have envisioned that the city could purchase this land from the respective landowners and use it for various trails and city recreation facilities.

To accomplish the purchase of these various plots of land, this initiative institutes a $7/mo per household fee that would go toward funding these land purchases. This month fee is scheduled to be assessed for 20 years. This, in combination with other funding sources the city may find (like the Army Compatible Use Buffer, or ACUB, funds) would allow the city to purchase land from landowners willing to sell to the city.

How much land are we talking about here?

It's about 6,000 acres of land.

This image provided in the actual Initiative illustrates what land would be affected:

Herriman Hills

Note: The purple area in the above diagram represents an area roughly the size of the currently developed areas of Herriman City. That's a lot of land!

What kind of development could happen in the Herriman Hills

If development does proceed in the Herriman Hills, the lots would be at least one acre in size. Because of this and because of the added development costs and infrastructure maintenance costs, these would very likely be larger, seven-figure homes attracting more wealthy residents than your average Herriman homeowners.

Any concern that developers are going to build more "ugly" high-density housing like Herriman has in and around Herriman Town center is unfounded. The zoning ordinances will not allow for it.

However, I've been told developers could bundle or consolidate their development so that by building some lots larger than 1 acre, they could build townhomes and still keep the average home-per-acre at 1 per acre.

Positives of the Herriman Hills Initiative

Open space, trails, etc.

Most Herriman residents love the less urban feel of the city and want to preserve some of that by not seeing a lot of development in the hills. This open space preservation not only preserves the wild look and feel of some of the hills, but will also provide Herriman residents with access to trails on the city-owned land in the hills. There has been talk of horseback riding trails, hiking trails, mountain biking trails, and even ATV trails.

Buffer between Herriman City and Camp Williams

As Camp Williams does exercises on their property, they make noise, explosions and sometimes wildfire. Preserving the open space in the Herriman Hills prevents people from being as affected by these issues by keeping Herriman homeowners further away from the borders of Camp Williams.

Note: The buffer area between Herriman City and Camp Williams will likely be established regardless of the outcome of the Herriman Hills Initiative.

The city could finally build the gun range they've been discussing

Herriman City has discussed development of a gun range in the hills for several years now. The initial discussion had the gun range located about a mile from the Juniper Point development and close to Lookout Ridge, something residents in both of those communities were nervous about.

Herriman City identified two other potential gun range sites to the south that would be further away from houses and more secluded. By purchasing this land, Herriman City could finally develop this gun range and provide a much needed shooting facility to the residents of the south end of the Salt Lake Valley and north end of Utah Valley.

Note: The Initiative would impose some severe restrictions on operations at a gun range (e.g. commercial activity). See below.

Negatives of the Herriman Hills Initiative

The scarcity of "willing landowners"

The whole Herriman Hills Initiative hinges on the supply of landowners willing to sell to the city. The city can't force them to sell and they can't force them to sell to the city. Some landowners want to see their land developed for housing and there's really nothing the city can do but be grumpy about it and make sure the development adheres to zoning restrictions.

It is underfunded

Some estimates for the value of all the property to be between 150 and 180 million dollars. If the city raises 20 million from taxing households $7/mo and the ACUP funds kick in another 60 million, that's still only 80 million dollars. That's not enough to purchase all the land and given that the land purchases would be taking place over a period of 20+ years, the value of those parcels of land will undoubtedly go up, so the above estimates are likely low for a 20 year projection.

Vacant, undeveloped land in Herriman is currently selling for between $107,000 and $200,000 per acre. The Herriman Hills initiative implies land could be purchased for as little as $5,000 per acre. This is extremely unrealistic.

Note: The Herriman Hills Initiative funds would pay for land purchases only and would not cover the costs of trails or any other recreational amenity the city would provide.

Trails and other amenities could be several years away

Because the Herriman Hills Initiative would only just now get started with collecting funds from households, it could be years or even a decade or two before land is purchased and trails and other amenities are developed for public use.

As this reality sinks in a bit, it may be worth considering that the primary purpose of the Initiative drive right now is not to provide residents with more outdoor recreation opportunities. Instead, it's to try to put a damper on development.

Landowners property rights, while not infringed, are threatened

The Herriman Hills Initiative indicates that the city will purchase land from landowners willing to sell to the city and that it really doesn't prevent landowners from selling to other private owners or even developing the land if they choose to do so. But, the existence of the Initiative significantly changes the market for the land. Landowners who waited for years for the value of their land to increase may see the appraisal values tumble after this Initiative takes effect because the prices they would normally get for their land selling it to a developer are no longer possible because developers don't want to work with a local government that won't be cooperative or supportive of their plans.

The Initiative imposes restrictions on the use of land purchased by the city

The Initiative prohibits the city from doing anything "commercial" with the land it buys which could put a big brake on certain projects like a gun range. If Herriman City were to participate in development of a gun range in the Herriman Hills, they would likely want to make it a public-private venture and the Initiative would preclude from doing this or make it really... hairy.

If someone wanted to work with Herriman to use the city's open space land to provide some sort of outdoor recreation experience like a zip line, chair lift, or BMX or moto cross competitions, they would be precluded from doing so because of these restrictions.

It doesn't stop development

Those who support the Herriman Hills Initiative because they don't want to see homes built in the Herriman Hills may very well be disappointed to discover this Initiative doesn't actually stop anyone from developing the land for housing.

Many also don't realize there are at least a couple dozen homes already built and occupied in these hills.

I've also learned there are development projects moving forward regardless of how the vote on the Herriman Hills Initiative comes down.

Positives of supporting development of Herriman Hills

I've taken some time to consider what we could gain, as a city, from supporting development in the hills.

Communities in the hills will include lots of open space or parks

Many in Herriman, myself included, love the outdoors and the open space amenities we currently have like our walking and hiking trails.

Because developers would be required to dedicate 20 percent of their land as open space and/or parks and because portions of the land in the Herriman Hills is simply not developable because of the slopes and terrain, there will be large amounts of open space or parks if the Herriman Hills are developed.

One person explained to me that a 500 acre development could have 200 acres of open space or parks. Some in Herriman complain that their neighborhood only has a measly grassy retention pond park or that the parks nearby aren't all that fun to go to. Development in the Herriman Hills could provide some serious parks with an outdoor recreation slant to them.

Less waiting

As mentioned above, it could be years or decades before trails are usable under the Herriman Hills Initiative due to the slow trickle of availability of funds. But with development of the Herriman Hills, open space, parks, and more trails could be usable by all of us within a short period of time.

Fire response times

Any development in the Herriman Hills would require two roads in and out of the development for fire safety. This not only makes evacuation possible, but it also gives firefighters the roads they need to get their equipment to the top of the hills if there is a fire. This was difficult or impossible before. With development, it wouldn't be.

Development would also include large water storage tanks making firefighting on the hills much more effective than it has been in years past.