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INCREASE OF HILLSIDE HOMES SHOULDN’T GET OUT OF HAND

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While "Up, Up and Away" may have been fine as a hit song title from years gone by, it warrants a cautious approach as a planning and zoning philosophy.

In several local communities, specifically Bountiful in Davis County, homes seem to be climbing ever-higher onto surrounding hillsides. And while the costs of these homes and building lots are often themselves sky-high, the costs to residents is also potentially significant.First is the steep price paid in loss of aesthetic beauty. Second is the heightened risk of widespread damage and potential death due to natural disasters such as mudslides and raging wildfires. While the Bountiful area has had unkind experience with the former, when mudslides destroyed several homes in Davis County several years ago, it has been spared a catastrophic fire such as the one claiming more than 2,700 homes and 25 lives above Oakland, Calif., in the fall of 1991.

Of course, all homes have the potential for devastation in various forms including earthquake and fire, but the increased risk of building on mountainous terrain - with an abundance of surrounding dry foliage in summer and often unstable soils - merits some unusual planning and zoning considerations.

A third consideration, particularly given this region's harsh winters, is that of street safety and the heavy cost of regular snow removal. Steep streets and roadways are often dangerous to navigate in the dead of winter, and storms leave heavy amounts of hillside snowfall with attendant heavy removal costs that tax already tight local government budgets.

While most communities, including Bountiful, have ordinances regulating home height and the steepness of building lot slopes, there is sometimes a tendency to grant variances for excessively sloped lots. And in Bountiful, at least, nobody has been willing to draw a line limiting homes above a certain point in the eastern hills. Perhaps leaders are reluctant to take such a step. It would certainly draw the ire of developers and some property owners and be viewed by some as an infringement upon personal property rights.

But local government officials, while maintaining a balanced approach between development and preservation of the natural landscape, would be wise to keep a close eye on the "high-rise" housing situation and keep the exploding home growth from getting up and away from them.