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Tyler Sipe, Deseret Morning News
Farmington officials hope to encourage some level of development yet retain the city's rural atmosphere.

FARMINGTON — The signs of growth are most visible in the early evening.

Along streets lined by a canopy of aged trees, residents are driving home. This is a city known for its agricultural heritage, but the cars are representative of new rooftops, growth and the development of farmland.

Longtime residents who have watched agricultural lands re-zoned and sold for housing development mourn the change. "It was hard for me to see the farmland go," resident Vonnie Steele told a Deseret Morning News photographer.

But compared to neighboring cities, Farmington has managed to maintain the "bedroom community" atmosphere that most residents enjoy. To the south, Centerville has experienced rapid commercial development: a Super Target, Home Depot and a much-criticized proposal to build a Wal-Mart Superstore.

While in need of a commercial tax base, Farmington officials vow to keep traditional big boxes out of their city.

Growth — specifically commercial growth — will happen. But they hope to manage it with "smart growth" planning, zoning restrictions and a focus on the future, not just the present need for dollars.

Planning for growth

Three years ago, Farmington officials began a process to revise the city's master plan. The goal was to determine areas where commercial, retail and economic growth could occur.

A consultant was hired and public meetings were held. Ultimately, the City Council approved a new master plan that called for commercial developments west of Interstate 15, near Highway 89 and perhaps north of Lagoon.

"We're doing everything we can to try to accommodate some level of development without ruining the atmosphere we all love about the city," Mayor Dave Connors said of the new master plan.

Two new zoning designations, transit-oriented development and neighborhood mixed-use, are being prepared for the planned commercial areas. The designations will set limitations for building and will likely promote a "walkable" development concept.

"We don't have the right to just say 'no' to development," Connors said. "We just don't have that right. Our job is to control it and make sure it's done right."

Residents, however, have mixed views. For 36 years, Andy Andersen has lived in Farmington and watched as farmland was subdivided into housing lots. The City Council has a knack for catering to developers, he said.

Case in point: Developments west of I-15 where The Boyer Co. and Proterra Cos. have been slow to improve roadways as promised. A 15-year-old boy was killed recently in an intersection near a road they are required to improve.

The accident was caused by a driver who ran through a stop sign. The Farmington City Council just allocated $370,000 to improve the intersection.

"I'm sick and tired of the Farmington City Council knuckling under to developers," Andersen said. "They've lied to us, they've not lived up to commitments. The place is a mess. We are really tired of it. It's our city government that's sold us out."

Development pressure

Like Andersen, others worry the city has "sold out" to bring commercial development into the city. Farmington property taxes are the highest in Davis County, and officials admit to pressure to add to their tax base.

Two new developments, Station Park and The Village at Old Farm, are already planned. If built, they will more than double the commercial property in Farmington.

"It becomes clear to me that unless you are willing to literally have a very substantial property tax increase, and I mean double or triple the property tax, there is no way you can fund the level of services expected simply with residential development," Connors said.

Of the two developments, Station Park is the larger but least controversial. It is to be centered around the Farmington commuter rail station and will include a mix of housing, retail, offices and retail.

By fall, developer Rich Haws plans to announce retailers that will locate there. One is a national theater chain; two other national retailers are expected to anchor the development.

"I cannot give you the theater name just yet," he said. "I can tell you there is major enthusiasm by the city."

City officials haven't been enthusiastic about controversy surrounding the second proposal, which is advanced by developer Rulon Gardner. For a year, residents have fought plans for the site, saying planned zoning regulations are loose and would spawn crime, traffic and big-box stores.

A member of the city planning commission, John Montgomery, recently resigned over the issue. In early June, the commission recommended zoning text that will apply to the development. The Farmington City Council will review the recommendation and hold a public hearing on July 20.

Planning commission chairman Cory Ritz said the controversy is unfortunate. But the commission recommended something that will allow for tight control of development, he said.

"Farmington is changing," he said. "Farmington is a different town from when I moved in 12 years ago. You can't get the kind of growth it's had without bringing change."

But careful planning, he continued, should allow the city to manage that growth.

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com