Guidelines adopted this week by Salt Lake County to control development in heavily used Wasatch mountain canyons have managed to strike a nice balance. They protect the canyons and make development less obtrusive while still allowing for construction and growth.
Developed in a two-year study, the 45-page plan contains suggested "standards," not zoning ordinances, but they will be taken into account by building officials before any new construction is approved.To make sure everyone understands what the policies are, the study includes plenty of pictures and drawings to show how structures are supposed to blend in with existing terrain and vegetation. That is an excellent way to avoid problems of interpreting written rules.
Putting together the standards has been low-key, probably because property owners in the canyons have not fought the idea. They have a vested interest in preserving the natural beauty of the canyons and have been supportive of development policies.
Affected are Emigration Canyon, Parleys Canyon, Millcreek Canyon, Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.
Among other things, the standards call for placing utilities underground, removing as little vegetation as possible, putting structures and parking in clusters, locating structures where they do not dominate the landscape or break prominent skylines, using colors that harmonize with the surrounding area, and protecting drainage patterns and stream buffer zones.
When coupled with existing ordinances that already control building height, lot sizes, parking, grading and other construction, the new standards should provide acceptable protection for the canyons.
In any case, the guidelines will be applied for one year and then reviewed for possible revision, which means that public comment about how things are working will be welcome in the coming months. In the meantime, the fragile canyons will be more likely to retain their exceptional beauty.