In quickly agreeing to rezone property in the foothills of Grandeur Peak - between Parleys and Mill Creek canyons - and thus limit construction on higher steep slopes, the Salt Lake County Commission did the right thing this week and set a possible precedent for similar action in the eastern foothills all along the Salt Lake Valley.
At issue in Grandeur Peak was about 633 acres that had been zoned R-1-8, allowing a home on an 8,000-square-foot lot. The commission's decision changed that to FR-5, one home on a 5-acre lot. The commissioners could have been more strict, but this seems like a reasonable choice that allows a minimum of building and still protects the mountainside.Given the fact that the property was extremely steep - more than a 30 percent grade in most places - and raised all kinds of geologic concerns, the commission's decision was relatively simple. Closely built housing doesn't make sense on slopes high on a mountainside. But the pressure for such construction appears to be increasing.
Over the years, housing has crept up the foothills, generally stopping where slopes became too steep. But a growing demand for expensive homes with a spectacular view has encouraged developers to take a new look at building in such terrain. Concerns about what construction would do to existing homes further down the slope, geologic hazards, vegetation and water runoff and the need to maintain open space also have grown.
Rezoning studies will be carried out in sequence along the foothills farther south. Each situation will have to be judged on its own merits. Legal questions about owners' rights and claims that downzoning deprives property holders of the value of their land are serious issues.
Not all development will be banned, nor should it be. But neither should uncontrolled growth be allowed in such sensitive areas.
The County Commission's vote this week at least sends a welcome signal that there is growing concern in the Salt Lake area about the future of the fabulous foothills surrounding the valley floor - especially those pristine slopes at higher elevations. They need to be protected and preserved as much as possible.