Even though South Jordan has been labeled as one of the housing hotbeds of Salt Lake Valley, it might sound strange to know that this fourth fastest-growing city in Utah is also one of the best kept secrets around.

While many live in areas where subdivision houses all look alike and commercial enterprises are line major streets, South Jordan is maintaining a posture that makes it an unusual place to live.You won't find apartment complexes, and there are few duplexes, condominiums or mobile homes. What you will find are houses situated on a minimum lot of 1/3 acres, and 1/2-acre lots are commonplace. (That allows homeowners to have horses in areas zoned for that use, and South Jordan is home to the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park.)

The rapid construction rate is proof that people like what South Jordan officials are striving for. Nancy Peterson, a real estate agent for Preferred Properties, and Doug Winder, an agent for Ulrich Realtors, both live in the area and have sold lots and houses in South Jordan.

They agree the housing market in the area is improving and many people wanting to get out of crowded cities are looking to South Jordan.

With the median price of a home in South Jordan at $120,000, it is easy to see the larger lots come in handy for those wanting larger houses, said City Councilman Bruce Hough. Other communities in the Salt Lake Valley allow 8,000 square-foot lots, but South Jordan officials said they were looked at in disbelief when they proposed larger lots.

City Councilman Bob Mascaro said South Jordan residents are happy with what is being accomplished with housing in the city. He said many are looking to the rural-type atmosphere that South Jordan offers.

The minimum-size house allowed in South Jordan is 1,200 square-feet, but some developers are building houses that average 1,500-1,600 square-feet, said City Administrator Richard Warne.

City Planner Lynn Sharp said 550 subdivision lots have been approved in the past 21/2 years, and 211 single-family house permits were issued in 1990, an indication of the housing growth in South Jordan. Most of the growth is between 2200 West and 2700 West and 9400 South and 10400 South.

Roger Sorenson, a partner with Dale Rindlisbacher in Bach Development Co., said his company has developed and sold 250 lots in South Jordan in the past 41/2 years, and not one was built on speculation. He said indications are the building craze will continue, although there is a shortage of lots.

Hough said it is difficult to sell lots that face major streets. Because of this, many houses are built with the back yards next to the streets. But that results in fences separating the back yards from the streets and a strip of land between the sidewalk and the street.It's cumbersome for homeowners to care for the strip, so the City Council adopted a $300 fee for each lot. The money goes into a fund, and the interest is used to maintain the strips. In addition, the council has adopted a "Streetscape Master Plan" that governs what trees can be planted and what type of fencing is allowed in back yards.

City officials have also been working on master plans that govern construction of subdivisions that includes a secondary water system which uses water from Utah Lake to irrigate lawns and shrubbery. All of the these plans give an outsider the impression city officials want to retain the unusual quality of the community.

Warne said South Jordan was incorporated in 1935 so the residents could obtain a federal loan. South Jordan started with 10.5 square miles, mostly planted in sugar beets. It remained a sleepy little rural community with a 1950 population of 1,048.

But as homeowners in the Salt Lake Valley started moving south, South Jordan annexed some land and grew to 7,735 in 1980. The 1990 census lists 12,220 people who call South Jordan home.

Some of the things that make South Jordan so attractive to homebuyers are the plans for parks and open areas, its own police and fire departments, a library and, yes, even a buffalo herd.

"It all boils down to a quality of life issue," said Hough.