Monday, October 20, 2008

Introduction to the November Bonds

Disclaimer: Articles posted at my blog are personal opinion. In posting this series on the bonds, I do not claim to speak for the City or the City Council. This blog does not represent any official position of American Fork City, and no City resources have ever been used to finance this blog.

Note: I have provided this series in advance to the mayor and the other City Council members, and have encouraged them to post comments where they differ. As always, I will honor my policy of posting comments in their entirety, regardless of my agreement or disagreement.

Utah Code does not prohibit a public official from speaking, campaigning, or otherwise exercising his First Amendment rights for political purposes, but it does prohibit a public entity from spending public funds to influence a ballot proposition. This is with good reason. The purpose of a ballot is not for the government to tell the people what to do, but for the people to tell the government what to do.

In other words, it's not my position that counts in this vote; it's yours.

Still, when the City Council votes to place an item on the ballot, that vote is presumed to be a strong recommendation in favor of the proposition. But the Council's vote to place five bonds on November's ballot was not that kind of vote.

Budget discussions last summer centered around a tax increase originally proposed north of 50 percent. Knowing this number to be untenable, the Council voted to excise several items from the budget, placing them instead on the ballot. The logic of that decision went something like this: "We know the public can't afford all of these items, so we'll put a list on the ballot and let the voters pick which items they want most."

One could say -- as I did -- that this amounts to failure to prioritize. But my arguments fell on rocky soil, so, when time came to place these items on the ballot, my vote represented nothing more than a desire to kick the matter up to a higher court -- yours.

The purpose of this article, therefore, and of the six that follow, is not to persuade but to inform. I believe you need straight talk from your elected officials if you are to cast an informed vote. Since a public hearing gives little opportunity for this -- the public likes to be heard in hearings, not talked at -- and since the City may not expend public funds to present anything beyond the bare facts -- this blog is the best venue I have available to me for thorough discussion.

As you read these articles, you will note that I have several concerns. For the most part, these concerns relate to timing and process. For example, there are two cases, 560 West and the Trail and Open Space bond, where study is not complete. In other instances -- most notably 560 West and 1120 North -- it will seem that the Council did not do enough to court public opinion or forge consensus. A strong, recurring theme will be the need to raise matching funds for grants. The nagging, unanswered question is, why did the City seek grants for which matching funds were not available?

In voicing these concerns, I do not raise objections to the items themselves. Each of these bonds represents a desire on the part of the Council either to respond to public clamor, or to act now to prevent greater expense later.

Nor do I disrespect my colleagues' motives or intentions. I have watched and participated as this Council has worked tirelessly, usually overtime, to meet in the most fiscally prudent manner possible the public's desires for public safety, infrastructure, and quality of life.

But ultimately, it's not the Council's voice that matters any more. It's yours. If you have questions as you read, please feel free to contact me or any of my colleagues. On this point I can speak for all: We're happy to help.

Bond Q & A

In addition to the merits and demerits of each of the bonds -- these will be discussed next -- there are certain overarching economic questions voters will be asking as they go to the polls.

Q. Will the City spend the money as promised?

A. Yes. You can trust the City on this point, because law forbids anything else. Funds obtained through general obligation bonds may not be put to any use other than those which are stated in the ballot language.

Q. Is this a good time for the City to borrow?

A. Yes, assuming commercial credit is available. Interest rates are low, making this an excellent time to borrow. Moreover, general obligation bonds (GO bonds) are eligible for lower interest rates than other bonds -- because GO bonds, by requirement, are those which have been put to a vote of the people. Lending institutions know they can count on repayment when the bond is backed by the will of the people.

Q. But isn't the City near its credit limit?

A. No. In fact, the City still enjoys its AA rating from Standard & Poor's. This is the best credit rating available to a City of American Fork's size, and it reflects the City's debt limit as well as its record of money management.

Q. Still, isn't it wiser to save money through accrual accounts--you know, pay-as-you-go?

B. Not necessarily. The rationale for bonds is that they allow a local government to put in tomorrow's improvements at today's prices. As we saw with the cost of the pressurized irrigation project -- which escalated from $9 million when it was first proposed to $48.95 million when it was finally approved -- it is often cheapest to bond and improve now rather than to wait and pay cash later.

Q. You already raised my property taxes this year, and tripled my water bill. Is this really the right time to ask for more money?

A. Not in my opinion, no.
But remember, we're not asking me. We're asking you.

Q. We all want City services, especially essential services like roads and public safety. The majority of us want quality of life services like the library, arts, parks and recreation. But wouldn't it be wiser to wait for better times to ask for more money?

A. Yes, in my opinion. Gas prices may be down, but grocery prices are sticky, and the unemployment rate is climbing, even in Utah.

Q. These are all one-time needs. Is it right to raise property taxes (on-going funds) for one-time needs?

A. This is another question you will have to decide. Remember the truth in the old saying, that there's no such thing as a temporary tax. Twenty years from now, when these bonds are retired, other needs will have presented themselves -- but presumably, this revenue would then be in place to serve those needs. Combine this much revenue with a good long-range plan, and prudent City officials ought never again to need a tax increase beyond the regular inflationary adjustments necessary to keep up with Truth in Taxation.

But I haven't seen a long-range plan, so I can't promise that there will be no more tax increases in the next twenty years, and you wouldn't believe me if I did.


Disclaimer: Articles posted at my blog are personal opinion. In posting this series on the bonds, I do not claim to speak for the City or the City Council. This blog does not represent any official position of American Fork City, and no City resources have ever been used to finance this blog.

Bond 1: Roads

The purpose of Bond 1 is to widen or complete roads in order to relieve congestion and improve pedestrian safety. In particular, it addresses three spots which have long been shown in the transportation element of the general plan, but which have languished for want of funds.

Here follow my explanation and comment.

50 South

50 South from 700 East to 1100 East is presently a two-lane road with gravel shoulders.

I first became acquainted with the issues here when I met a Barratt PTA president who drove his children to school -- a distance of maybe two blocks -- because they could not safely walk along 50 South.

While I cannot say that improvements to 50 South will relieve the hornet's nest of school traffic at Barratt, I can say that pedestrians will have safe passage here if the road is completed. Finished, the road will have the same cross section it shows when it crosses the Pleasant Grove boundary and becomes 1100 North. There will be three lanes including a center turn lane, sidewalks, curb and gutter.

As to cost, this project has been estimated at $4 million in 2009 dollars. This estimate includes everything from replacing mailboxes and utilities to laying asphalt.

Of that $4 million, $1.06 million is already available through federal funds distributed by the Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG). At the time this award was made, the City's portion of the cost (the match) was to be 6.33 percent, or about $72,000.

I do not know the year of the award, and cannot comment on what financial predicaments led American Fork to procrastinate until inflation had driven costs up by an additional $3 million. I can say that American Fork has gone back to MAG to ask for additional funding, and the answer, unofficially given, was that MAG would consider the City's request if the City would raise an additional $1 million.

Hence, $1 million of Bond 1 will go toward the widening of 50 South in hopes that MAG will then award the additional $2 million necessary for completion.

If voters approve the million but MAG does not come through with the $2 million, I cannot say what will happen. As a City Council, we have not discussed this possibility. Presumably, the City would either have to abandon the project or else opt for partial completion, as it cannot legally put the bond funds to any use other than what appears in the language of the ballot.

Additional note: The intersection at 50 South and 1100 East is presently a four-way stop and this bond will not change that. Utah County expects to take over jurisdiction of 1100 East and has acknowledged the need for a signal there. As an American Fork Council member, I'm more than happy to let the County foot the bill for the signal.

900 West

900 West is familiar to most as the access road east of Costco. It runs from State Street to the congested intersection at 700 North, and from there continues on to Highland. At present, the road has several turn lanes at the State Street intersection, but quickly narrows to two lanes.

The presence of Costco makes 900 West a road of regional significance, which is why MAG has studied it. According to MAG's technical review, 900 West should ideally show five lanes up to 700 North and three lanes between 700 North and 1120 North. The 700 North intersection warrants a signal light.

When the Carson property develops, the City will be able to require the developer to provide the necessary widths along his property. This bond treats the portion of 900 West that begins where the Carson property ends, one lot shy of 700 North.

The intent of the bond is to acquire the piece of property at the northeast corner of 900 West and 700 North -- welcome news for those offended by the parcel's "for sale possible commercial" sign -- then to construct turn lanes. With this right-of-way, the City will be able to add a west-bound right-turn lane to 700 North and a north-bound right-turn lane to 900 East.

While this will certainly help the intersection, it is only a band-aid when seen in light of MAG's recommendations. The obvious question is, why not bond for the entire package -- signal light and three lanes through to 1120 North?

The short answer is that the Council saw 1.87 million reasons not to go all the way, and voted instead for this cheaper, $400,000 option. In a year with a tax increase and several million dollars in bond propositions, this was one place where the Council felt it could cut corners, so to speak.

If approved, Bond 1 will not preclude future installation of signal and turn lanes, but will bring the City $400,000 closer to this goal.

1120 North

1120 North is best known as the location of American Fork Junior High. The road begins at 200 East, crosses through a signal at 100 East, and comes to a four-way stop at 150 West. From there, it continues past a church and several lovely homes, then stops just west of Hunter Park. Completed, it will continue to 900 West and stop there.

Since the junior high was built in the 1970s, 1120 North has been shown as a major collector on the transportation element of the general plan. Necessary to accommodate a student body of 1500, a major collector shows a width of 82 feet. These 82 feet include a center turn lane and curb, gutter, and sidewalks.

The intent of the bond is to finish the road by extending it across the hollow to 900 West. This would be a distance of some two and a half blocks. The majority of the expense lies in the bridge, which, because it traverses a wetland, must be built in accordance with permits given by the Army Corps of Engineers. The silver lining to this expense is that the bridge would open up access to future trails through Hunter Park.

Regular readers will remember my post from last October, in which I advocated the completion of 1120 North. I support the design standards, which are pedestrian friendly, and I support the general plan, which was in place when homeowners purchased their properties.

I have been an outspoken advocate for pedestrian safety, and this is the biggest reason why I support the completion of 1120 North. 1120 North is needed to shoulder its burden as a collector and siphon traffic off of 700 North, where conditions for pedestrians are nightmarish. Completing 1120 North means more sidewalks, more trails, and better safety throughout the northwest neighborhoods.

However, I am not convinced that Bond 1 is the best way to do it. I fear it would be disastrous to complete 1120 North without first completing 900 West up to 1120 North. Between 700 North and 1120 North, 900 West is a narrow, two-lane road without shoulders. If we assume that the 4,000 daily vehicle trips which now take place in front of the junior high would now continue through to 900 West, then we ought first to construct 900 West to accommodate those trips.

If approved, however, the bond will not preclude future improvements along 900 West, but will bring the City that much closer to compliance with its general plan.


Bond 1, if passed, would raise $4.32 million for the projects described in the ballot. The bond would be repaid through a corresponding increase in property taxes. The increase to a $240,000 home would be approximately $37 per year. The increase to a $240,000 business would be approximately $68 per year.

Disclaimer: Articles posted at my blog are personal opinion. In posting this series on the bonds, I do not claim to speak for the City or the City Council. This blog does not represent any official position of American Fork City, and no City resources have ever been used to finance this blog.

Bond 2: Art Dye Park

The purpose of Bond 2 is to fund improvements at Art Dye Park. Improvements fall into three categories. First would be more of the traditional recreational amenities that we associate with parks. Second would be completion of a trail that was partially funded by a federal grant. Third would be the widening of the Beehive Park road that is at present the only access into Art Dye Park.

American Fork's residents are well aware of my advocacy for parks and the children and families they serve. I can attest that the ball fields, tennis courts, scorekeeping facility, restrooms, and lighting provided by this bond would be put to good use. I can further attest that research into pricing is recent, and should hold firm through 2009 -- meaning we shouldn't run out of funds a third of the way through our list (as we did with the 2003 parks bond).

But parks amenities are just the milk of this bond. The meat is in the road and trail issues.

The Beehive Road has become a "clear and present" threat to public safety. Usage of the park is so heavy during ball season that cars must park along the Beehive Road. The City has restricted parking to the east side of the road so that public safety vehicles may pass when necessary, but passage is still iffy and the road is not safe for pedestrians. Widening the narrow road will require a few tricks of engineering to get over the MacArthur ditch, hence the $275,000 price tag for the widening.

The asphalt trail, with its comfortable ten-foot cross section, is planned to start in the heart of the park and proceed from there north to Highland, where users can connect to the Highland trail system and continue on to the American Fork canyon. This will be a widely-used recreational amenity, but this is not the chief reason for the bond.

The real problem is that the City has been unable to match a $400,000 CM/AQ grant for the trail. (CM/AQ is a federal program; the letters stand for Congestion Management and Air Quality.) If the City does not fund its match this year, it will have to give up the grant and also repay some $90,000 of engineering costs which were already expended. The long-term effect of this would be to stain the City's "credit rating" with the feds.

Were it not for this problem, I think the Council could have postponed this bond for another year, a year with a rosier economy.

From a financial standpoint, the Art Dye bond fits neatly into a viable long-term plan for parks funding. Prior to the year 2000, park dollars in American Fork went mostly into property purchases. In the late 1990s, the City began to assess park impact fees on new development. This created a dedicated revenue stream for capital improvements to parks. In 2003, the City passed the aforementioned parks bond and funded playgrounds, benches, irrigation, trees, picnic tables and paving at 27 parks. This bond obligated all park impact fees until the year 2012, but, as noted above, did not provide all amenities necessary to finish all parks.

Absent this bond, the City would have no funds to continue park improvements until 2012. With the bond, the City could finish Art Dye Park and make better use of a great regional attraction over the next four years.

As a private citizen, I would gladly pay my extra $33 in property taxes to accomplish this goal -- most years. This year, however, the uncertain economy has me thinking twice. Are parks amenities wants or needs? How badly does American Fork need federal grants? Would it be better to hold off until the economy rebounds?

Personally, I'll be watching the economy closely over the next three weeks while I decide how to vote on this one.


If passed, Bond 2 would raise $3.86 million for Art Dye Park. The bond would be repaid through a corresponding increase in property taxes. The increase to a $240,000 home would be approximately $33 per year. The increase to a $240,000 business would be approximately $60 per year.

Disclaimer: Articles posted at my blog are personal opinion. In posting this series on the bonds, I do not claim to speak for the City or the City Council. This blog does not represent any official position of American Fork City, and no City resources have ever been used to finance this blog.

Bond 3: Cemetery

The purpose of Bond 3 is to seek voter approval for the purchase of 6.5 acres of property in the immediate vicinity of the existing cemetery. Bond funds would cover both the purchase and the improvement of the property in order to supply an additional 6,500 burial spaces. At current projections, this would meet community needs for the next twenty years.

For the last sixteen years, cemetery sexton Ray Garrett has warned the City Council about the growth rate of the city and the limited land available at the cemetery. Even with the moratorium now in place on cemetery plots, the remaining land is expected to last less than three years. Cemetery staff has indicated their embarrassment when they show families the plots that remain, because most are in undesirable locations. There is particular concern for the City's veterans who wish to be buried here in their hometown. The Veterans Memorial section has only a few plots left, and these are in highly undesirable locations.

For various reasons, the City has been previously unsuccessful in acquiring new cemetery grounds. For the most part, residents and landowners of the small tracts of land adjacent to the cemetery are unwilling to sell. The City attempted to convert the neighboring Filly and Pony park to cemetery use, but was deterred by vocal public outcry. The large tracts of land that exist south of I-15 are unsuitable because of the high water table there. The City made a petition to the governor and the legislature to purchase lands north of the Developmental Center, but the request fell on deaf ears.

When I first took office, I rated this problem as a "want" rather than a "need," but only because I have lived in places where cemeteries are provided by the private sector. In the intervening years, I have not only come to appreciate the desperate situation of the cemetery, but have also observed that Utah, for whatever reasons, relies on its local governments to provide cemeteries.

I am rating this bond, therefore, as a "need" instead of a "want," and I'm predicting that the voters will see it the same way.

Two contingencies: The land purchase will be contingent on a City-accepted appraisal of the property. Please note that ballot language says "up to 3.12 million." What this means is that the City will not pay more than this for the property purchase. If the property appraises low, the City can and will bond for less than that amount.

The land purchase is also contingent on the results of an engineering study. The purpose of the engineering study is to establish that the water table is low enough for cemetery use in light of a nearby spring. Results are expected to be favorable; however, I have been advised by City staff that the bond does include sufficient funds to remedy the situation if the water table is high. Again, the key words are "up to." If those funds are not needed, the City will not bond for them.


If approved, Bond 3 would raise $3.12 million for the purposes described above. The bond would be repaid through a corresponding increase in property taxes. The increase to a $240,000 home would be approximately $27 per year. The increase to a $240,000 business would be approximately $49 per year.

Disclaimer: Articles posted at my blog are personal opinion. In posting this series on the bonds, I do not claim to speak for the City or the City Council. This blog does not represent any official position of American Fork City, and no City resources have ever been used to finance this blog.

Bond 4: Trails and Open Space

The purpose of Bond 4 is to fund trails and open space, two quality of life interests which presently are without dedicated revenue streams.

I cannot explain the trails any better than the City's information piece did, so I quote it here. Bond 4 is --

to enable the construction of two trails, the American Fork River Trail, and American Fork’s portion of the Southern Rail Trail.

Part of a comprehensive trail plan, these trails will connect to a third trail, the Center Street Trail, to form a system which will extend from the American Fork Greenwood Skate Park at 500 South through to the northern border of the City. From there, users will be able to connect to the Highland Trail system and continue on to the American Fork Canyon.

The Center Street Trail has been funded and is currently under design. The remaining two trails have been partially funded through federal grants. This bond will provide the funding necessary to match the federal grants and construct the two trails.

Proceeds from the bond will fund land purchase, right-of-way acquisition, design, and construction costs. Trail cross-sections will vary as the trail passes through different parts of the City. At times, there will be stand-alone asphalt trail; elsewhere, the trail will be striped at the shoulder of the road or will follow existing sidewalks.
As for the open space, the parcel in question is located across 600 North from the Star Mill, between 100 East and 200 East and just east of the stream. (The parcel itself does not access the stream.)

This is a beautiful location, one I seek out whenever I have a chance. I prize it for its natural beauty as well as for its ability to evoke images of American Fork's past. I would very much like to see it preserved. But I must here acknowledge many unresolved issues regarding this property acquisition. First and foremost is the problem of the purchase price, which is unknown. Second is the problem of the LeRay McAllister grant, which was supposed to supply half of the purchase price, but which, according to latest report, was not awarded. Finally is the question of purpose -- it has not yet been determined what purpose this property will serve. Will it become a trail head, with parking stalls and picnic tables? Or will it be seeded in natural grasses and left open?


Approved, Bond 4 will raise $2.29 million for trails and open space as described above. As discussed, it may not succeed in providing all that is described. However, voters may be assured that the City cannot and will not put funds from Bond 4 to any other purposes. The bond would be repaid through a corresponding increase in property taxes. The increase to a $240,000 home would be approximately $19.50 per year. The increase to a $240,000 business would be approximately $34 per year.

Disclaimer: Articles posted at my blog are personal opinion. In posting this series on the bonds, I do not claim to speak for the City or the City Council. This blog does not represent any official position of American Fork City, and no City resources have ever been used to finance this blog.

Bond 5: 560 West

The purpose of Bond 5 is to extend 560 West southward over the railroad tracks, opening it to Pacific Drive. This would have the effect of relieving peak-hour back-ups at 400 West and dividing an estimated 3,000 daily road trips traffic along two minor collectors.

The neighborhoods surrounding Hindley Park have been clamoring for this for more than a decade. My first encounter was in November 2002, the night I was appointed as chair of Neighbors in Action. A well-organized group presented its plea to the City Council that same night, saying things had gone on long enough and it was time for the City to act.

When I took office in 2006, one outspoken neighbor took me by the shoulders and said, "If you don't do anything else during your term, see that 560 West goes over the railroad tracks!"

But this is not to suggest consensus throughout the neighborhood. I can name several residents who vehemently oppose opening the road. The mixed messages we continually receive from the neighborhood are one reason the mayor recommended this item for the ballot. The other reason, of course, is the need for additional funding.

Here is my understanding of the issues.

560 West is designated a minor collector. As such, it already has the sidewalks necessary for pedestrian safety and the width necessary to accommodate the vehicle trips it would siphon off of 400 West. Those trips, as stated above, are estimated to number about 3,000 each day. Half of that number, or 1500, is what we might reasonably expect to see at 560 West if it were open today. This is about the same number of daily vehicle trips we see along 900 East, which runs in front of Barratt Elementary.

2030 projections show that number at 6,000. This is the large number I attempted, unsuccessfully, to pull out of the air at September's hearing on the subject. (I have had occasional delusions of adequacy in this position, but none of them came that evening.)

Barratt Elementary brings up a useful comparison. Where 900 East has Barratt Elementary, 560 West has Hindley Park. Both attract large numbers of children. Both have ball fields. Both are situated along uninterrupted stretches of roadway -- a prime condition for a local speedway.

Where Barratt Elementary mitigates these conditions with ball field fencing and speed bumps (at least, we may hope the Barratt neighbors will be successful with their petition for speed bumps), Hindley Park will need the same.

However, neither mitigation is included in this bond.

The $5.03 million of this bond will pay for the cost of crossing the railroad tracks and for the cost of closing two other railroad crossings. This is in accordance with UTA policy, which governs these tracks and aims to make driving conditions safer in the towns it affects.

Information recently mailed to residents states that "the City has studied various railroad crossings that could be closed, but negotiations have not been completed for any specific crossings. "

This statement is true on its face; however, there is better information available.

After the neighbors spoke out in 2002, the late Council Member Jimmie Cates was able to negotiate two crossings for closure. While it is true that negotiations were not finalized -- the City lacked the millions necessary to continue -- it is also true that we can expect UTA to honor the same closings today.

The first of these has already been closed; this is at 50 South and Elm Street. The second involves reworking Pacific Drive between 100 West and 200 West so as to eliminate the crossing at the S-curve. Devilishly clever, the rework would convert Pacific Drive into two one-way streets for the length of this block, with the tracks running between. Existing crossings at 100 West and 200 West would be retained, but the S-curve would be eliminated.

Cost of this re-work plus the crossing at 560 West: $5.03 million.

So pros and cons fall into place on both sides of this issue. The 560 West crossing has long been shown in the general plan. But the bond has no mitigations to protect Hindley Park. The expense involved in the crossings and closures may be out of proportion to the benefit. It might be cheaper and more practical to widen 400 West, but this option has not been studied.

Given the public clamor both for and against, it makes sense to take the issue to the voters. However, a City-wide ballot is not the most efficient way to frame the question. A City-wide ballot is destined for defeat, as it must include votes cast in the eastern half of the City, whose residents seldom access this neighborhood and have never experienced the near-impossibility of turning left onto Pacific Drive from 400 West.

On the upside, the City will be able to analyze results by precinct, and this analysis ought to provide a clear direction from the local neighborhoods as to whether the City should pursue the crossing again, in later years, or whether it should remove it from the general plan.


If passed, Bond 5 will raise $5.03 million for the railroad crossing at 560 West, with associated costs. It would be repaid through a corresponding increase in property taxes. The increase to a $240,000 home would be approximately $43 per year. The increase to a $240,000 business would be approximately $79 per year.

Disclaimer: Articles posted at my blog are personal opinion. In posting this series on the bonds, I do not claim to speak for the City or the City Council. This blog does not represent any official position of American Fork City, and no City resources have ever been used to finance this blog.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

October 22

Please reserve time for two very important meetings this coming Wednesday:

Transportation and Community Planning Open House
hosted by Mountainland Association of Governments

American Fork Senior Center
(54 East Main Street)

4:30 - 6:30 p.m.

Join the Mountainland metropolitan planning organization, UDOT, UTA, and community representatives from around the county to discuss roads, highways, air quality, buses, trains, trails, and community development. Voice your opinion. Learn about the future vision for Utah County.

American Fork Town Meeting

American Fork City Hall
(31 North Church Street)

7:00 p.m.

Ask questions, listen, learn, and speak out about the five bonds on the November ballot.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

900 West

Note: Apologies to my readers for my month-long absence from the blog, an absence rooted in a personal matter which I may choose to explain at a later date. Suffice it to say that I have begun to wonder whether "blog" is short for "back log," and that I am pleased finally for this opportunity to account for a controversial vote I cast in August.


Those who so vigilantly fought the rezoning of the Carson property in 2006 surely read with interest the Herald's report of the August 26 City Council vote to rezone. Solomon-style, the vote split the baby into three pieces, placing one each into the professional office, design commercial, and low density residential zones.


The controversial Carson property sits across the street from Costco on 900 West. Pristine rural land until the Meadows opened in 2004, the property has now become a highly desirable commercial opportunity. To the east of the Carson property, however, sits the Spring Hollow neighborhood, one of American Fork's quieter single-family neighborhoods, a neighborhood with a park, an LDS chapel, a walking route to Shelley Elementary School, and many, many school children.

Understanding the property's location between American Fork's hottest commercial district and one of the City's most beatific neighborhoods, readers will not need me to explain the tensions that played out when the Carson family applied to have the property rezoned from the low density residential to the commercial designation.


When I campaigned for office in 2006, I fielded many questions about this parcel. I articulated a two-fold position: First, that whatever happened, the safety and serenity of the neighborhood must be protected. Second, I said I would listen to the residents who live in the area and represent their point of view.

Three proposals for the zone change

Fall 2006. Debate surrounding this proposal was easily the most heated I have ever seen. Residents packed the Council room, voicing arguments both for and against the zone change. The plan itself had many flaws which would have devastated the Spring Hollow neighborhood. It showed big-box commercial development occupying most of the property, with very little to buffer the neighborhood from commercial light and noise. Worst of all, it threatened to open 500 North onto 900 West, a situation which would have sent large volumes of Costco traffic to Shelley Elementary. The Council, acting largely out of concern for the neighborhood, voted 4-0 to deny the zone change (with one abstention).

June 2008. The 2008 plan was more favorable to the neighborhood. Plans showed a retail component to the south, with proposed office buildings to the north serving to buffer the development from homes along 700 North. The east side showed 500 North connecting in a horseshoe to 600 North, with a row of new homes built east of the new portion of road. This guaranteed that 500 West would remain closed to 900 West, and that commercial traffic would not have direct access to the neighborhood. The new homes served to buffer the existing homes from the commercial property, while residents of the new homes would purchase knowing what they were getting into.

This plan had almost everything I needed to see -- a smaller retail component, buffering to the north and east with either professional office or new homes put up against existing homes, and 500 North forever closed to 900 West.

However, two conditions prevented me from voting for this plan. First was the developer's request for the design commercial zone. This zone allows for professional offices as well as for commercial retail; however, it cannot require offices but only permits them. Under this zone, the developer could change his mind at any time and put retail right up against the homes on 700 North. I wanted the professional office zone along the north so that I could guarantee the neighbors that offices would be built there. Offices are not only good neighbors, but they are also a strong deterrent to future commercial applications above 700 North.

The second problem was my concern for the traffic on 900 West -- a corridor which has proven woefully inadequate since Costco opened. Giving 900 West additional width (in accordance with the recommendations of the Hales traffic study performed earlier this year) was the second condition for my vote. I voted with the 3-1 majority against this proposal.

August 2008. In August, the plans came back looking the same as they did in June, but this time the two problems had been fixed. The developer had granted additional width for 900 West, and a line had been drawn from east to west through the commercial portion of the project, showing the professional office zone to the north and the design commercial zone to the south.

I now felt satisfied that the neighborhood would be protected, and found myself able to vote for the zone change. The Council voted 2-2, with the mayor breaking the tie by voting in favor.

Looking back

I would strongly have preferred for this parcel to remain in the low-density residential zone. Homes built here could have been accessed through the Spring Hollow neighborhood, not from 900 West, and an attractively stamped and landscaped eight-foot concrete wall along 900 West would have adequately buffered them against commercial traffic.

Unfortunately, while this vision was shared by many of the neighbors, it was not caught by the developers. Ivory Homes dropped its contract on the land, and no other residential offers were forthcoming. As I walked the area in the early mornings, I could see why. There's an old zoning truism which states that development on one side of the street will mirror development on the other side of the street. On the Lehi side, developments surrounding Costco are primarily commercial, professional office, and high-density residential. There is no single-family residential south of AF's 700 North.

In short, commercial pressure made the property highly unstable. I came to realize that if the City Council held out for residential, the Carsons would hold out for a new council. The only way to protect the neighborhood was through compromise, and this compromise, I still feel, was the best way to protect the neighborhood from traffic, from noise and light pollution, and from the problem of commercial creep.