HEBER CITY Towering redrock cliffs and rolling hills of juniper trees that once were home to sheep and ranchers will soon be welcoming golfers and millionaires, as one of this area's biggest residential developments nears approval.
Sitting on 1,900 acres, the Red Ledges is expected to include nearly 1,500 new home sites. The Heber City Council is considering incorporating the development into the city, and if that happens, it would bring a 50 percent increase in the number of residences now within the city's boundaries.
But the development's sheer size has caused alarm among some local residents, who worry it will increase traffic and diminish the area's rural character.
"It will definitely change the nature of the Heber Valley," said Bart Mumford, an engineer with Heber City who is involved in reviewing plans for the development. "With all the growth that we are experiencing up here, I don't think it will be the quiet little town it once was."
Heber now has 3,000 residences. Many call the Red Ledges area one of the most scenic properties around. The property straddles unincorporated Wasatch County and Heber City. Most of the land, 1,500 acres, is in the county. The remaining acreage is in Heber.
"To me it's a piece of southern Utah without all the heat," said Ben McNaughtan, whose grandfather and father both farmed a portion of the property. "If we could have farmed it forever, we would have done that. But the direction this valley is headed, it just doesn't work anymore."
The property is co-owned by Tony Burns, the former chief executive officer of Ryder; and Nolan Archibald, chief executive officer of Black & Decker. Burns and Archibald both have ties to Utah.
The Red Ledges will be an exclusive gated community with an equestrian center, tennis academy, extensive trail system and an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course.
Wasatch County and Heber officials were pleased that Red Ledges will include 950 acres of open space half the size of the project. Al Mickelsen, Wasatch County planner, said the county hopes to put conservation easements on that open space, which would prevent development on it.
"If we could plan a community with a zone that said all these homes will spread over 1,900 acres, with over 50 percent open space that's a product we'll be really glad to have," Heber Mayor David Phillips said. "You don't find any subdivisions that have that kind of open space."
But LeNell Heywood, who lives just west of the property, says the Red Ledges, combined with other new developments in the valley, will create a "traffic disaster" for Heber's two-lane roads.
Todd Cates, project manager of Red Ledges, downplayed such concerns, saying that more than half of the residents at the development will likely be second-home owners. However, a traffic study commissioned by the developer shows that the Red Ledges and other surrounding developments will generate an additional 5,400 daily vehicle trips by 2030 on Heber City's Center Street, the main collector road for the Red Ledges.
Plans already are under way by Heber City to expand Center Street's two lanes into four. Cates said the improvements will easily accommodate the additional traffic.
But Bob Wren, Wasatch County planning commissioner, said more roads would likely be needed and would have to be paid for by Heber, which would have the greatest traffic burden.
Tonight, the Wasatch County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing for a zoning-change request for the Red Ledges. The site is currently zoned as a preservation zone, which allows one house per 160 acres. Cates is requesting a change to a mountain zone, which would up the density to one house per five acres. It would also allow for bonus densities.
"A lot of people have questioned whether we need a gated community in Heber," Wren said. "Does it really need to be exclusive?"
But for Phyllis Christensen, 79, who owned nearly 1,200 acres of the Red Ledges with her late husband, Garold, a sheep rancher, the benefits of selling were too great."You know farmers are dirt poor," Christensen said. "I didn't think I would ever sell it. It was just an opportunity to have some cash flow. I can help all of my kids and all of my grandkids with the sale of it."