It's Utah's version of getting high.
Wasatch Front residences are inexorably creeping higher and higher into the foothills, up to mountain goat territory, until homeowners have to break out the oxygen masks to show guests around the yard and install a turbo option on their car just to make it home.Consider, for example, the suburban community of Bountiful.
Most of Bountiful is severely tilted. From its humble (and flat) downtown beginnings, the city's homes have climbed into the surrounding foothills higher than anyone thought they could.
"We didn't anticipate anything going above the (Lake Bonneville) shoreline," said city engineer Jack Balling. The shoreline is where Bountiful Boulevard now runs.
Here's how far up houses have gone: A commuter who lives in the Stone Ridge subdivision has to negotiate a hill 1,500 feet high to get home from I-15.
That's higher than the Empire State Building. In local terms, it's higher than three LDS Church office buildings stacked atop one another.
Bountiful is widely known as a nice place to live. That's probably due to the city's low crime rate, its relatively well-kept neighborhoods and its fiscally conservative local government.
But perhaps most important is the hill.
"Obviously you have beautiful views," City Councilwoman Ann Wilcox said. She bought a home just below Bountiful Boulevard almost 20 years ago. "The air is clean. You have the feeling of a mountain setting but have the advantages of an urban area."
But there are disadvantages. It's hard to drop by your neighbors when you have to puff up a mountain to do it. In the winter, deep snow comes early and leaves late. And if your child is playing stick ball on an east-west street and happens to drop the ball, you can kiss it goodbye. On some Bountiful roads that ball will roll for miles before coming to a stop.
Another disadvantage: money. The higher the house, generally, the more expensive it is. Various homes in Bountiful's rafters are now worth well over $1 million, and one or two have broken the $2 million mark, according to Davis County records.
Even a bare dirt lot can break the bank nowadays.
"There are building lots that cost $90,000 to $100,000 in that area," said county programmer analyst Janine Eames.
Many of the high foothill lots have been sitting around for a while because people could build for less money lower on the hill. But now, with room running out and lots becoming scarce, people are buying.
"In the past they've been too expensive," said city planner Blaine Gehring. "They're old, old lots - some of them were created in the '80s."
Besides the lots' expense, they have another problem: Most of them have steep slopes and thus little actual room on which to build.
In the late 1970s, when houses started doing some serious climbing, city councils and county commissions, who weren't thrilled about seeing houses instead of oak brush, enacted a wave of moratoriums and restrictive ordinances.
"There was widespread feeling in the city that `the mountains are ours,' " Balling said.
Bountiful at first prohibited any building above the shoreline. But after a legal skirmish with developers, the City Council enacted an ordinance that has become standard in Utah: no building or improvement on a slope exceeding 30 degrees.
Thus, while a foothill resident might have a one-acre parcel, he could very well have only 5,000 square feet on which to build.
The ordinance has created some friction. With buyers forking out big money just for a lot, they want the freedom to build the house they've been planning all these years. But very often, that house simply can't be built given the topography.
"They're great homes - on flat land lots," Gehring said. "These people get their dream lot and then get their dream home, and they don't fit. Generally you'll have to design the home to the lot."
"Some people (who) want a certain home think we're buggers because we won't let them do it," Balling said.
But the slope restriction does have the advantage of forcing houses on the foothills farther apart, leaving at least some of the mountain in its natural state.
Many communities have both mountain and valley, offering home prices from outrageous to affordable. But Bountiful is mostly mountain. Housing prices there are rising so fast many municipal employees can't afford to live in the very city they work for.
Balling said the only reason he's able to live in Bountiful is because he bought his home back in 1959.
"I know I couldn't afford a home here now," he said.