Monthly Archives: January 2018

Affordable Housing in Utah and What It Means for Cedar Hills

The Issue

Utah’s economy is booming, and we can see growth all around us. This means more and better paying jobs, but has also resulted in a housing shortage, especially for those who have lower incomes. The number of available and affordable units for low-income families is decreasing, which puts these families at a greater risk of being homeless. The State Legislature is looking to push through legislation this year that will financially penalize cities that do not have adequate affordable housing.

The Stats

According to a report published by The Department of Workforce Services, Housing and Community Development Division, the median family income (MFI) for a Utah household is $5634/month or $67,608/year. The report states that to be considered affordable housing, a family/individual should not be paying more than 30% of their income for housing. Based on that info, a family at the median income level should not be paying more than $1690 for rent.

The report goes on to look at data for those making 80%, 50%, and 30% of the MFI and the availability of housing units for those families and individuals. What they have found is the closer a family/individual gets to low-income or extremely low-income, the fewer units that are are available.

The Arguments

Housing developers claim that the lack of affordable housing units is primarily based on city zoning ordinances that limit or prohibit high-density and low-income housing units and high impact fees assessed by cities. Cities have pushed back stating that market conditions and other conditions outside of local government land use authority are contributing to the increase in housing prices. These include items such as increased costs for building materials, labor, and land; market demand (developers are looking to build “luxury apartments”), and realtor fees (real estate commissions = $325 million in Salt Lake County in 2016).

The Proposal

While a bill hasn’t yet been introduced, legislators have stated they will be introducing one that assesses a fee to cities that lack adequate low-income housing units in their city. A preliminary concept is to base the fee on a formula that considers the amount of affordable housing in the city and exempts cities that house a homeless resource center. Speaker Hughes has referred to this as “must pass” legislation.

The Impact on Cedar Hills

As the bill has not yet been introduced, we do not yet know what this means for Cedar Hills. Based on housing data available to us, it is clear we do not have any housing units in the city that qualify as low-income housing. One concern that we’ve raised is that for small cities such as ours that are close to being built-out residentially, there simply isn’t room to expand to zone for high-density low-income housing units. We have been following zoning ordinances that have been legal and in place for decades, but now will be penalized for not having room for this type of growth. Additionally, based on land prices in our area and lack of public transportation, it is unlikely that developers would be interested in building low-income housing in our area. And as we’ve seen from the high-density proposals that have been presented to us, high-density does not necessarily mean it qualifies as affordable housing. In fact, an argument made by representatives of a nearby Utah County city is that they have zoned portions of their city for high-density housing but developers are building luxury apartments in those areas. They do not have developers interested in building low-income housing in their city.

Questions that we are waiting to receive answers to include:

  • What criteria will be looked at when assessing a fine? Population? Land availability?
  • Who will collect, manage, and expend the revenue generated by the fee?
  • What homeless resources will qualify for funding generated by the fee? Will entities such as Lantern House in Ogden, a non-profit organization started by local religious organizations, be eligible to receive funds generated from this fee?

Once we have more information we will assess how this will impact our budget. It appears it may have a significant impact on city budgets, especially for cities such as ours that do not have any low-income housing. While there is clearly a need to address the housing issues that exist in Utah, and while I applaud the State Legislature for wanting to address housing shortages for low-income housing families, it is important for legislators to understand the impact these decisions have on municipalities. A better option may be to seek solutions at the county level instead of pitting cities against each other.

There are a few other bills that we are watching including small cell legislation (cell towers) and extraterritorial jurisdiction amendments (watershed protection programs). I will post more next week about the impact of bills such as these and how we are advocating for our city.

East-West Connector and State-Owned Land

This week I want to talk about the land south of Lone Peak High School, located in Highland. This land is owned by the State of Utah and was set aside for future development, with the intent that the land would generate revenue to provide ongoing funding for the Utah State Developmental Center (USDC), which is located just south of that land and within American Fork boundaries. Discussions about this land and an east-west connector road through the land have been ongoing since 1977. In 2014 the State House and Senate approved a concurrent resolution in support of the master plan created by the USDC, which can be viewed here.

While this land is outside of Cedar Hills, what happens there will have an impact on our community. There are two areas on which I want to focus, the first being the east-west connector road and the second being ownership of the land.

East-West Connector Road

As part of this development, there were discussions regarding an east-west road that would connect the cities of American Fork, Highland, and Cedar Hills and would go through the State-owned land. One suggestion had the road starting in the lower southwest portion and going diagonally through the proposed development to connect with Cedar Hills Drive, as seen below.

Fortunately, we’ve been told by the project manager that after further discussion, it has been determined that the diagonal road will be cut from the plans after concerns were raised about putting additional traffic at that intersection, which is already very busy when school starts and ends at Lone Peak. In May 2017 the USDC Board approved a resolution granting approval for the development of the 143 acres as outlined in the master plan, which includes the east-west connector as seen below:

This road connects to 5300 West (SR-74/Alpine Hwy) in Highland at Canal Blvd (9860 N), goes through the southern portion of the proposed development, and connects to Harvey Blvd in Cedar Hills. There will be a traffic light installed at North County Blvd and Harvey Blvd. This proposed road will reduce travel time from Cedar Hills to American Fork and parts of Highland (including Mountain Ridge Junior High) and makes our commercial zone more desirable to developers as it creates a more direct route to Cedar Hills for residents of American Fork and Highland.

As part of the resolution, the Board stipulated that the road will have a speed limit of 25mph, will only be two lanes with no center turn lane, will have bike lanes along both sides, and will not allow roadside parking. This may have an impact on available funding for the road. In 2006 and 2009, Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG) approved $4.17 million for construction of this road. However, legally MAG can only fund roads that are of “regional significance”, which is defined as a minor collector or above. According to MAG, the UDOT study for this development identifies the need for a collector class road, which is identified as a three-lane cross-section and typically will have a speed limit in the 35mph range. In discussions I’ve had with representatives of MAG and USDC, I have been told that MAG can fund the road with the speed and size limitations approved by the USDC Board, but only as long as the road is designated a collector road. For this reason, several cities in North Utah County are passing resolutions asking for the State to approve the construction of this east-west connector and requesting that the road has the necessary elements to maintain the classification as a collector road.

Ownership

Because the purpose of this land is to provide a continual source of revenue for the USDC, the State plans on keeping ownership of most of the land, which would include some housing elements and some commercial elements. My understanding is that the State plans to sell off the single-family housing units and retain ownership of the high-density housing and commercial areas. The current master plan looks like this:

As you can see from the chart above, the density consists of:

  • 165 single family lots
  • 630 apartments
  • 49 townhomes
  • 200 senior apartments
  • 28 senior single-family units
  • 134,000 sq ft of retail space
  • 40,200 sq ft of office space

The land currently resides in Highland, though the USDC Board has discussed the possibility of requesting annexation into American Fork as the USDC is located in American Fork and they feel it would be easier to deal with one city. While this density is higher than either city would normally allow, the State is not required to adhere to municipal zoning ordinances.

Why does this matter to Cedar Hills?

The chart above shows that an estimated 1,072 housing units will be added to this area, in addition to retail and office space. All the land that is State-owned is exempt from property tax. This means while the city in which the land resides will see an increased need for public safety personnel and equipment, and while the school district will have a significant number of new students added to the school system, neither entity will be able to collect property taxes from the State-owned portions to pay for these needed services. It is safe to assume that the added cost will be pushed to existing property owners. We contract with American Fork for police services and with Lone Peak Public Safety District for fire services, which serves Highland, Alpine, and Cedar Hills. Regardless of which city this land resides in, it is reasonable to expect that an increased demand for public safety services with no associated increase in revenue to cover those services will impact our residents as well those in Highland and/or American Fork. The mayors of American Fork and Highland are meeting with State representatives and requesting that the State sell the entire 143 acres for development instead of retaining ownership of the land. If this were to occur, the developer of the land would need to comply with city ordinances (which should reduce the proposed density) and owners would be subject to property tax, which would help cover the cost of the increased need for services.

Call to Action

I encourage you to reach out to Representative Mike Kennedy (mikekennedy@le.utah.gov) and Senator Dan Hemmert (dhemmert@le.utah.gov) to

1) express your support for the approval of the Murdock Connector Road to be built as required for classification as a connector road, and

2) list any concerns you have with the amount of density being proposed and the lack of funding to pay for public safety services that will be needed to serve the proposed development.

Feel free to email me at jrees@cedarhills.org with any questions or feedback. As I have updates, I will share those as well.

Welcome to a New Year!

It has been my honor to serve as a City Council member for the past six years and I look forward to continuing to serve Cedar Hills as mayor over the next four years. We have many important issues to discuss and, as always, I welcome your input and feedback as we make decisions for our community.

Communication and transparency have been and will continue to be a priority for me. While I will continue to have a monthly column in the city newsletter, one of the best ways to receive timely and in-depth updates from me is to follow my Facebook page at facebook.com/mayorjenneyrees or to visit this blog. I plan on using this blog to keep residents informed on city issues, as well provide updates from the county and state that impact our community. You may also email me at jrees@cedarhills.org if you wish to receive email updates of the messages posted here.

Because I will now be responsible for chairing City Council meetings, I won’t be typing notes during the meeting and posting to the blog I used to maintain as a council member. However, I will post a brief update by the next day on the topics that were discussed and voted on. This will be posted to my Mayor Jenney Rees Facebook page.

While Cedar Hills is nearly built out, Utah County is still growing, and it is important that we prepare for that growth and preserve those aspects of our community that make Cedar Hills a great place to live. I look forward to working with the City Council, city staff, and residents as we plan for our future.