One of the most significant housing trends in the past 15 years is unfolding in southwest Salt Lake County, where another local government is now contemplating "up sizing" the traditional starter home.
After years of study, West Jordan's City Council and planning commission this past week endorsed the concept of larger homes and directed their staffs to develop specific recommendations.Earlier in the month, the West Valley City Council instructed its planning commission to proceed with steps to increase the minimum house-size requirement by at least 100 square feet.
South Jordan and Riverton have been emphasizing large homes on large lots for some time. And Bluffdale - with its one-acre lot size minimum - this month placed a moratorium on all new subdivision approvals pending further study.
Officials in all of those communities say the time has come for a redefinition of southwest valley housing.
"My view is that there is a disparity in valley cities in the relative size and distribution of housing," said West Jordan Mayor Kenneth A. Miller. "We have our fair share of smaller homes."
West Jordan officials are considering a proposal to require building lots of at least 8,000 square feet and houses with a miminum "footprint" (main floor size) of 1,100 square feet. Even larger lot sizes would be encouraged, and many of the existing 1/3-acre to 1/2-acre lots would be preserved under the proposed policy change.
West Jordan City Manager John Hiskey said the emphasis during the early 1980s was on development of small, low-cost housing. Some area subdivisions have 4,000-square-foot lots with only eight feet separating the houses, he noted.
The young families who moved into those houses have grown up and want larger houses, but they also want to stay in West Jordan, Hiskey said, "which is why we need a diversity of housing within our community."
Miller said when his own family outgrew its West Jordan starter home, they moved into a larger home nearby. "Many families today don't have that same opportunity. Our feeling is that that trend needs to be reversed."
West Valley officials said about 40 percent of the building permits they issued during 1990 involved 900- to 950-square-foot homes, a figure which added impetus to that city's move to increase the minimum size.
Like Miller, West Valley Mayor Brent F. Anderson believes that the continued emphasis on small houses is forcing growing families to look elsewhere for their second homes.
Anthony Murphy, assistant administrator for South Jordan, said, "I think it's fair to say that many people are moving to South Jordan from West Jordan and West Valley because of our larger homes and lot sizes."
South Jordan's decision to favor more upscale housing through size restrictions has led to residential stability and a generally favorable housing market, Murphy said. "Our homes are nice for families, and they are selling quickly. We're pretty comfortable with what we have."
Miller said the trend toward larger houses in the southwest part of the valley could prove beneficial to existing starter houses, many of which are beginning to exhibit signs of age. With fewer new starter homes available, first-time buyers may resort to buying and fixing up the older, deteriorating stock, he explained.
Some builders and realtors have expressed concerns about the evolving public policy, arguing that the trend toward larger, more expensive houses may lock some homebuyers out of the market.
City officials said all sides of the issue will be considered and public hearings will be held before any decisions regarding house and lot sizes are made.