Residents along the Wasatch Front are wondering if local ordinances are protecting mountainsides from haphazard development.
Bountiful City Councilwoman Renee Coon questions some of the development in the Maple Hills area of her city. She believes too many variances to the city's ordinances have been allowed for sloped building lots."Aesthetically it is not good. The beauty of the hillside is being destroyed," she said.
Bountiful city engineers are also worried about another hillside danger - fire. That comes particularly after the fire in Oakland, Calif., last year. Officials are grappling with fire-code administration in the foothills. For example, they are considering whether homeowners should be required to clear brush, branches and other vegetation away from their home.
Residents living in the Holladay area east of Wasatch Boulevard at about 6200 South recently complained to Salt Lake County officials that homes in their area are being built too high and too far up the mountain.
County officials agreed something should be done.
"If I took a can of spray paint and painted this building black, I'd be arrested," said Commission Chairman Jim Bradley. "What we are doing to the hillsides is far worse. We need stronger codes. It doesn't do a lot of good to go to one of the most beautiful spots in America and have to look at this crap."
Ken Jones, director of the Salt Lake County Development Services Division, said that most of the development in the area does meet county ordinances, but his department is considering several changes to the existing code. Among those is one requiring larger side yards for hillside lots as well as larger lot sizes in hillside developments.
Jones, who has reviewed development in the county and Salt Lake City, said he doesn't like Salt Lake City's hillside ordinance that restricts heights of homes to 30 feet. He believes the county's ordinance, which allows a height of 35 feet to the midpoint of the roofline, makes more aesthetically pleasing development.
Many hillside homes in Salt Lake City have "dug in" their garages and entries down from the street level, leaving only a roof to be viewed from the street. In Salt Lake County, the extra five feet has kept garages and entries - something people prefer at a midlevel of typically three-story homes - at street level.
Already ordinances in Salt Lake County and most other areas restrict the slope of roads to 12 percent or less in hillside areas.
Planners hope to place all hillside areas in Salt Lake County under development restrictions, not just areas along the mountains. All building lots with a 20 percent or greater slope will have an automatic site plan review by the Planning Commission.
Other problems in the Holladay area - including a developer bull
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dozing an unapproved road above the Heughs Canyon development and contractors dumping a large amount of fill off a hillside lot - are illegal, and county officials said they have asked developers to fix the problems. In the case of the illegal roads, the county attorney's office is considering possible legal action to force developer Dene Kesler to repair damage the county says he made to the hill.
Calvin K. Schneller, Salt Lake County planner, said that it is ironic that now most of the hillside areas in the county are developed people seemed concerned. When the hillside ordinance was originally approved, developers sought more lenient ordinances.
A Deseret News survey of hillside ordinances in Salt Lake and Davis counties shows that most local governments have taken a similar approach to restricting hillside development by saying how tall a house can be built and on how steep a slope.
None have arbitrarily drawn a line on the hill saying "no development past here." However, in Davis County, local officials say that the Forest Service boundary is preventing futher development up the mountain.
Here is a sampling of local hillside ordinances in Salt Lake and Davis County.
No construction is allowed on land greater than 30 percent grade. Such land is nonusable and must remain in its natural state.
The steeper the grade on a lot, the larger the lot must be. For example, a lot with a 20-30 percent grade must have 20,000 square-feet minimum. Homes must also be built within 200 feet of a public road, preventing property owners from building long lanes into their property.
Hillside building lots in Centerville must average 30 percent or less slope. The city has a 5,000 square-foot minimum lot size for hillsides. The restriction is 35 feet.
Farmington restricts homes to 30 percent or less slope. Height of homes restricted to 30 feet.
Thirty-five feet would be the highest residential height allowed in a residential zone including hill area. Homes cannot be built on slopes of 30 percent or more. The city uses a sliding scale based on slope percentage to require larger lot sizes when building on hillsides.
North Salt Lake
The city has no restriction on slope of lots, but contractors must prove through engineering reports that a lot is buildable. Height restriction of hillside homes is 28 feet.
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City has one of the most lenient ordinances, allowing houses on lots that have a 40 percent slope. Homes must be set back from that slope an average of 20 feet. Some cities measure the average slope of the lot, the city goes by the true slope.
The height restriction is 30 feet, measured from the grade at the time the plat was approved to the highest point of the house. Builders can't add fill and measure again.
Planner Doug Wheelwright said the city hasn't had many troubles with its subdivisions. "We put a tremendous effort into the plan approvals," he said.
Salt Lake County
Allows homes to be built on 30 percent slope or less. Home height is restricted to 35 feet. Homes can be built as close as 5 feet to the street. Under a new ordinance, all site plans for homes built on 20 percent slopes or more will be reviewed.
Sandy's hillside development laws date back to 1979. Contractors can't build on slopes of 30 percent or more. Homes are restricted to 30 feet. Sideyard setbacks are the same as other zones. They vary by zone. The minimum is typically 16 feet between homes. On larger lots sideyards can required as large as 20 feet. The city also has a law that restricts cuts and fills to 10 feet.
Deseret News staff writers Paul C. Parkinson, Don Rosebrock, Jay Evensen, Karl Cates and Lynn Arave contributed to this report.