The future of the Utah’s housing will likely rest in high-density projects, a necessary component to accommodating population growth and lowering housing costs. As such, key leaders must exercise a spirit of compromise and thoughtful foresight to avoid making this issue a needless division for years to come.
There is an unavoidable need to create more housing for more people in less space. But finding consensus on a local level on how to manage such growth is difficult, as we have already witnessed in communities from Holladay to Herriman.
As a critical transportation planning project for the Wasatch Front nears completion, the basic nature of civic planning is experiencing a paradigm shift that is likely to influence, if not dominate, local politics in the coming months and years.
The Wasatch Front Regional Council — charged for 50 years with overseeing long-term transportation planning — is approaching completion of its vision plan for the area come the year 2050, when the population along the front will have risen from the current 3 million to over 5 million. Different from its past strategies, the council now places emphasis on land-use planning and the need for zoning changes to accommodate “housing types and locations that we can both afford and work best for our lives.”
It is an oblique reference to the need to build higher density housing, something that runs in contrast to tradition and the strongly held preferences of many current residents who prize living in single-family homes on spacious lots. Room for that kind of subdivision sprawl no longer exists in great quantity, as communities lap up against the foothills of the Oquirrhs and to the shores of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake. Building “up” and not “out” is the future of development, and planners will be hard put to foster that new wave without strident opposition.
As in Holladay, residents have resisted plans for relatively high-density housing on the site of the former Cottonwood Mall, arguing the project will detract from the town’s village-like atmosphere. And in Herriman, residents successfully mounted political pressure to derail plans for a development of nearly 9,000 housing units on about 900 acres — about three times more “dense” than neighboring developments.
For the first time in a half-century, Utah now has more households than actual houses, whether owned, rented, on single plots or in apartment or condominium complexes. Housing costs are rising at a rate of 7 percent per year, nearly triple the growth in household income. Young families are forced to live in parents’ basements or suffer long commutes from places where housing is more affordable — at least for now.44 comments on this story
Salt Lake City is an exception among local municipalities when it comes to forcefully addressing the issue. The city has vigorously worked to accommodate development of affordable housing — almost exclusively in the form of multi-unit development. In most cities and towns, the issue surfaces from the bottom up, as developers propose and politicians react to requested zoning and other changes to create such developments.
As the regional council completes its “Wasatch Choice 2050” plan, it's critical that it spotlights the question of how local leaders can best manage the process of adapting to the realities of a dwindling housing stock and the inevitable need to accommodate more people living in smaller spaces on less land.