As new houses pop up each day like toadstools after a soaking rain, the cities that dot the southern end of Salt Lake County are competing hard for the title of "most exclusive."
So far, South Jordan and Riverton have emerged as clear front-runners, seeking creative ways to tactfully recruit the wealthiest of new move-ins. Young couples and regular working stiffs need not apply, thank you.Both cities long ago rezoned much of their vacant land so that each new house must be on a one-third acre lot. But that was kid stuff. Riverton raised the competition to a new level in recent weeks by passing what has become known as the "anti-aluminum ordinance."
It was a bold move that quickly landed the city in court.
The ordinance requires the facades of all new houses to be 50 percent stucco, brick or stone on the first floor. Aluminum siding can't appear until the second floor. Forget about building your palatial Tudor mansion. Wood exteriors aren't on the list of allowed materials. Neither are asphalt shingles.
Forget about putting brick on the front of your house only and covering the three sides that are out of view with aluminum, as many of my South Jordan neighbors have.
Never mind that all these are acceptable materials according to the uniform building code and that some people actually like them.
All things considered, it probably would have been more effective simply to pass a minimum-income ordinance. Set it at, say, $70,000 per household and require anyone moving into the city to provide last year's tax returns and a current paycheck stub.
Or, better yet, build a moat around Riverton and lower the drawbridge only for certain people.
The new requirements add considerably to the cost of owning a home in Riverton. Eventually, they will raise the value of everyone's property and add dearly to property tax bills - even for those people who have lived in Riverton since the days when Riverton wasn't cool.
But it will save city residents from the "aluminum jungle," as City Councilman Steve Brooks called it. And it will attract a large percentage of the expensive-house market, which is booming right now.
If nothing else, Riverton has raised an interesting legal question, one that includes such all-American topics as property rights and the Constitution.
Cities have a right to pass zoning ordinances in an effort to attract upscale homes. They even are allowed to control the materials used on homes in areas designated as historic. Those restrictions are seen as necessary to preserving a community's heritage. The whole city gains by it.
Cities also are allowed to attach fines and restrictions on the owners of abandoned houses, as Salt Lake City currently is considering. These homes can cause safety hazards and attract vandals. Again, the city as a whole gains.
But can a city prohibit a private property owner from using safe and acceptable building materials simply for aesthetic reasons?
It's a question the Home Builders Association of Greater Salt Lake would like answered. No sooner had Riverton passed its ordinance than the association filed a lawsuit in 3rd District Court.
The association's attorney, Darrel Bostwick, said the problem is simple. This is a case of government abusing its authority. Developers may be able to set restrictive covenants barring certain materials in subdivisions. They own the land and are building the houses. But he believes governments shouldn't mandate matters of personal taste.
The disadvantaged will have no place to live in the new Riverton. Bostwick wonders why fair-housing advocates and minority groups haven't protested.
Give them time. These are new struggles in Utah, where phenomenal growth is unprecedented. I just hope whoever eventually wins the title of "most-exclusive" is happy with the prize.