Monday, August 27, 2007

9600 North, Highland

Highland City is updating its general plan, including the transportation element thereof.

One feature of the update is the widening of 9600 North from a 66-foot, two-lane residential collector to a 74-foot, three-lane major collector. Reasons cited include the lack of other east-west collectors in Highland (other than 11000 North) and the desire for access to destinations such as The Meadows in American Fork.

9600 North now connects American Fork's 100 East and 900 West, though the road itself sits almost entirely within the Highland City limits and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Highland City government.

But 9600 North also forms the boundary with American Fork City and its impact will be felt by American Fork residents who live in the Hillcrest neighborhood. The road is also proposed for extension eastward to Highland's 4800 West. The most direct alignment would take it through the Fox Hollow Golf Course (formerly the Tri-Cities Golf Course) and well within American Fork's city limits.

For this to happen, American Fork would have to give its consent. In this scenario, the connector would forge an irresistible link between the City of Cedar Hills and The Meadows, and 9600 North would become a road of regional significance.

Enter the Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG). Highland City reports that the mayors of Lehi, American Fork, and Pleasant Grove (the three cities of the Tri-City Golf Course) did agree, last January, to allow MAG to include just such a connector in a regional transportation study. Reportedly, MAG has already mapped the connector on a regional transportation plan, calling for completion by 2015 and attaching a budget of $38.3 million (though funding is not in place).

Understandably, local residents are concerned. Some are concerned that such a road, necessary to accommodate rapid growth in the area, is long overdue. Others -- many of whom live in the corridor between AF's 100 East and 900 West -- are concerned about impacts the connector might have on their quiet, residential neighborhood, or about the threat it would pose to wildlife in the Fox Hollow Golf Course.

MAG's Sean Sager (as quoted by Alan Choate in the Daily Herald) says that concerns "usually dissipate when people learn that plans call for a two-lane road and that there's a wider study going on."

My experience would suggest the opposite. My inbox has been deluged with queries and position statements from residents.

I wish I had time to answer each email in detail. But alas, I am subject to time's mortal bounds and must resort to a single response, which I am posting here for all to see.

I will do my best to answer all the questions that have been put to me, but please understand that some answers are impossible to provide, as events are still unfolding.

Q. Is it true that 9600 North will become a five-lane road, with speed limits of 50 mph?

A. No. As discussed above, Highland wants to put a three-lane collector on the portion between American Fork's 100 East and 900 West (the middle lane is a turn lane), and MAG is talking about a two-lane job to Cedar Hills.

Q. Is it true that homes along 9600 North will be condemned for the widening?

A. I would be very surprised if this were the case. While I cannot speak for Highland City, I can say that American Fork's planning philosophy would be highly unlikely to call for the condemnation of the properties it services along 9600 North. For one thing, it's not necessary -- we're only talking about expansions of a few feet. For another, it's prohibitively expensive. Keep in mind that condemnation, otherwise known as eminent domain, requires that the City pay full market value for the property in question. In the words of our City planner Rod Despain, "We would have to be convinced that there were no other way to do it. There would be too much cost for too little value."

Q. Can Highland City condemn houses in American Fork without American Fork's consent?

A. No. Neither can it condemn houses in American Fork with American Fork's consent. Just as American Fork cannot vote on Highland City affairs, neither can Highland act for American Fork City.

Q. Is it true that American Fork supports this road because the City cut a deal with Meadows developers, promising the developers better access to the Meadows and receiving increased tax revenues in return?

A. No.

Q. Is it true that American Fork cut a deal with Highland such that American Fork would support the road in exchange for Highland City water rights?

A. No.

Q. Why can't Highland remember that it's a bedroom community?

A. It's true that Highland limits its commercial development, choosing instead to be a residential community. This philosophy is described in detail in the City's general plan. The City's general plan, however, does not prohibit property owners from selling and subdividing their land; nor does it place any limitations on family size; nor does it make any effort to make the community a less desirable place to live. So we shouldn't be surprised -- and residents at the August 22 hearing attested to this -- that increasing numbers of Highland's children are returning to Highland to raise their own children.

These same children will grow up and drive and shop at the Meadows -- they will have to, because Highland refuses most commercial development. The inevitable result is that, in order to accommodate its own growth, Highland will need bigger and better roads to American Fork.

Short of imposing Malthusian population controls, I don't see any way around this.

Q. Why aren't American Fork City officials listening to me and fighting this battle for me?

A. I'm listening. So is Councilmember Shirl LeBaron, who lives in the Hillcrest area and spoke out at the August 22 public hearing in Highland. Councilmembers Sherry Kramer and Dale Gunther are also listening and responding to the dozens of emails they're getting. Three of our City Council attended the August 22 hearing on the subject at Legacy Elementary. And Mayor Thompson, at last Tuesday's City Council meeting, allowed residents to speak well past their two-minute time limits, extending the twenty-minute public comment period to more than an hour. Few mayors have shown such patience.

But there's one thing we won't do, and that's vote on a Highland City general plan. Law forbids us.

As to the MAG study, to which Mayor Thompson consented, it's important to remember that this is only a study. Given the rapid growth of our area, American Fork would be foolish not to allow such a study. But the study will be purely advisory. Unless UDOT takes over, then no adoption or action or funding can take place without the ratifying vote of the City Council, and American Fork's City Council will never vote without first considering public input. Law forbids us.

Q. What is your position, Heidi Rodeback, on 9600 North as a major collector?

A. Residents will be disappointed to learn that I take no position on 9600 North, though I do have opinions.

On the question of widening the existing portion of 9600 North to 3 lanes, I can take no position because I have no vote. This is a Highland City issue. Widening 9600 North to add a turn lane will make the road look like American Fork's Pacific Drive. Clearly, this will impact the surrounding residents, including those living in American Fork's Hillcrest neighborhood. But the only thing I can do for this situation is to encourage concerned residents to join forces with their Highland neighbors and make their concerns known to the Highland City Council.

Nevertheless, I do have an opinion. My opinion is that the Hillcrest area is one of our City's most beautiful, most established neighborhoods, and I will do whatever I can to protect the quality of life in this neighborhood.

On the question of extending the collector to Cedar Hills, I can take no position until the study is complete. To close my mind before the facts are known would be to perform a disservice to the residents of American Fork. It is a part of my sworn duty to listen openly to all parties and to be sure all relevant facts have been brought to light before casting an informed vote.

Nevertheless, I do have an opinion. At present, I am not convinced of the need for major connectivity from Cedar Hills to American Fork across the Fox Hollow area, and I do not feel that the value of connectivity is worth jeopardizing the natural beauty of the hollow.

To all appearances, Cedar Hills was built as a suburb of Pleasant Grove; thus its traffic flows in that direction. If Pleasant Grove continues its plans for economic development, it will eventually be able to service more of Cedar Hills' shopping needs. In the meantime, I suspect Cedar Hills residents are content living off the beaten track. I suspect that's the very reason they chose to live there.

Highland, on the other hand, is a suburb of American Fork. Its traffic flows in our direction. It makes more sense to me to upgrade the north-south collectors such as Highland's 6800 West (American Fork's 900 West) and Highland's 7200 West (Lehi's 1200 East).

Nevertheless, I cannot deny the effects of growth. So I'll listen if MAG's engineers want to tell me that creating an east-west connector at 9600 North is necessary to prevent gridlock. Especially if they tell me that they can build without disrupting the natural beauty of the hollow. And I'll listen to the cities involved if they will commit to mitigate the impact to surrounding neighborhoods -- whether through speed limits, speed bumps, walking trails, mass transit, or multiple collectors.

I'll listen. THEN I'll decide.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thought for the Day

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A More Perfect Arts Council

I took my family to the amphitheater last night to hear the Wasatch Winds and the American Fork High School Marching Band, performing as guests of AF's Concerts in the Park. Such a concert! I am continually in awe of the discipline shown by the youth of our marching band, and I admire John Miller's exemplary leadership.

Mr. Miller has performed an equally impressive act of service in founding the Wasatch Winds, a community band open to any who don't want their instruments to grow rusty. I greatly appreciate the impact this has on our community. It not only creates art for audiences, art which enhances our quality of life, but it also sets our youth a great example of adults, many of them parents of young musicians, practicing and perfecting a talent.

I counted some 800 or 900 people in the audience last night, and they were all having a good time. In fact, I've noted good attendance and good production values at dozens of Arts Council events this year, and each time I have marveled. I marvel that in twenty years, driven by the founding vision of Lori England, our Arts Council has grown to include so many popular programs, led and peopled by more than a thousand dedicated volunteers.

The reason I marvel is because I have been behind the scenes and seen how many strikes, organizationally, the Arts Council has against it. For twenty years, the Arts Council has operated without written by-laws or paid leadership. Without these, it has been difficult to plan or even to predict the composition of the Arts Council from year to year. Funding is always up in the air, and without the etiquette of by-laws, it is often difficult for City staff to know whether it can authorize requests.

It has felt as though the Arts Council were the red-headed stepchild of the City.

Fortunately, help is on the way. The City Council, seeing both the value the arts add to our City and the plight faced by our Arts Council, will act tonight to approve written by-laws and to authorize the charter, twenty years after the fact, establishing an arts council in American Fork. And at our last meeting, two weeks ago, we confirmed the appointment of Lori England as the Arts Council's paid, full-time director.

By doing this, the City Council hopes to legitimize our red-headed stepchild, stabilizing the Arts Council against the whims of shifting economies and political climates.

If you are one of the thousands who have attended the concerts in the park this summer, then I'll wager you also appreciate the enjoyable art, the beautiful natural setting, and the sense of community these concerts offer.

Or if you are one of the thousand who have contributed their talents to a play, concert, or art exhibit this year, then you understand the value our Arts Council adds to your quality of life here in American Fork.

And if you have taken your children to any of these events, or have encouraged them to take part, or have set them an example of your own participation, then we may hope you have sparked an interest that will kindle their further arts education.

Together, these forces add up to a safer, saner, more civil society. Putting it constitutionally, the arts help us establish that domestic tranquility which secures the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity -- bringing us that much closer to the more perfect union.

If the vote goes well tonight, this will be a good day for American Fork.

Arts Council By-Laws

Perhaps you won't find this riveting reading, though I don't know why not -- these by-laws have kept me up at least as many nights as Harry Potter. But if you do enjoy by-laws, then you'll enjoy this list of the ten principles embodied in the Arts Council's proposed by-laws.

The list was prepared as an executive summary for the City Council, which will vote tonight, we may hope, to adopt the proposed by-laws for the Arts Council.
  • The by-laws acknowledge that the Arts Council is a government entity sponsored by the City of American Fork. As such, the Arts Council must comply with government requirements for accounting, procurement and oversight. As cumbersome as this is, it is recognized that the arts in general will not flourish without strong government support.
  • The by-laws create oversight of the Arts Council by a governing board with representation from people of diverse competencies and backgrounds. The governing board provides a check and balance against other sources of power. Board members have both tenure and turnover to allow for effective service and response to societal change.
  • The position of executive director is affirmed. The executive director is paid and accountable to the Chief of Staff under the human resource policies of the City. The executive director is charged with implementing the direction of the governing board and with carrying out the day-to-day operations of the Arts Council.
  • The executive director’s job description and time commitment are expanded to match those of other arts councils in other communities. The executive director, acting in concert with the governing board, is now accountable to set and meet fund-raising and marketing goals.
  • Participation from the surrounding region is encouraged, so long as programs are offered principally for the benefit of American Fork residents. We welcome both the talent and the ticket revenues of residents from our sister cities.
  • Because the Arts Council is funded by the taxpayer, the benefit must accrue to the taxpayer. Programs are limited to those that add value to large cross-sections of the community. To be eligible for City funding, an organization must be named in the by-laws and its budget must be approved through the City budget process.
  • The by-laws allow for the nurture of grass-roots organizations through the creation of an affiliate program. Small organizations, for a reasonable fee, may apply for access to Arts Council resources and facilities at cost. (The by-laws themselves do not activate this program -- that will wait until the governing board can propose an acceptable policy.)
  • The by-laws allow for a collegial and mutually beneficial relationship with the Timpanogos Arts Foundation, while maintaining separate missions, separate accounting, and separate governance.
  • The by-laws allow for what is unique about our Arts Council and our community to continue. Specifically, they allow for the choir, the symphony, and other like programs to continue as volunteer-led organizations with direct participation by residents, while adding the administrative support of a paid director and the oversight of a governing board.
  • The by-laws open up avenues for greater partnership with the local business community.

Questions are welcome and copies of the by-laws are available on request -- just email me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thought for the Day

"By 200 B.C., soldiers of the Roman Republic had conquered all of Italy except the Alps. In the following three hundred years they created an empire extending from Spain to the Persian Gulf. To insure their hold over these lands the Roman soldiers built permanent military camps. As the need for military force lessened, many camps became important cities of the Roman Empire. The Romans knew that well planned cities did more to maintain peace and security than twice the number of military camps. They also knew that a city was more than just a business, government, or religious center. It was all three, but most important, it had to be a place where people wanted to live.

"Because cities were built either where no city previously existed or where a small village stood, the maximum population and size were determined before construction began. The planners then allotted adequate space for houses, shops, squares, and temples. They decided how much water would be needed and the number and size of streets, sidewalks, and sewers. By planning this way they tried to satisfy the needs of every individual -- rich and poor alike.

"The planners agreed that when a city reached its maximum population a new city should be built elsewhere. They recognized the danger of overpopulation. A city forced to grow beyond its walls not only burdened the existing water, sewage, and traffic systems but eventually destroyed the farmland on whose crops the people depended. . . .

"Roman cities . . . were designed and built to serve the needs of all the people who lived within them. This kind of planning is the basis of any truly successful city. The need for it today is greater than ever."

David Macaulay
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974
emphasis added