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Prime river lands going, going . . .

Area being bought up, Spanish Fork is told

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SPANISH FORK — If conservationists want to preserve the wide, open spaces of Spanish Fork's historic river bottoms, they need to act quickly.

That was the advice from planning director Emil Pierson at the conclusion of a recent City Council discussion on the findings of Swaner Design consultants, part of a 10-city south Utah County fact-finding effort for Envision Utah.

Already, he said, developers are buying up fertile river bottoms land along the Spanish Fork River.

Spanish Fork doesn't have a conservation subdivision ordinance but may develop one because of the information Swaner consultants generated, Pierson told the Deseret News.

Such an ordinance would require open space in future developments.

Swaner's findings closely parallel Spanish Fork's general plan, he said.

Preservation of the river bottoms tops a resident wish list, Nebo Community Vision project leader Tom Hale said.

"That was unanimous," he said of the 80 Spanish Fork residents who attended fact-finding and brainstorming workshops over the past several months.

Hale suggested annexing land outside the city's growth boundaries, established in 1996, to preserve the river bottoms area.

The consulting firm would like to be involved in carrying out some of the ideas generated at the workshops, Hale said. The firm is nearing the end of its consulting contract with Envision Utah, a planning think tank.

"It wraps the end of August," Hale said. If the cities want to implement planning based on Swaner's efforts, they need to act soon, he said.

Swaner consultants found that Spanish Fork residents want to maintain open green areas and to link them with trails, particularly through the river bottoms to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Powerline corridors could be used to connect green areas, he said. Residents would also like to see better access or streets to historical features in the community, including the remote Pioneer Cemetery, which looks out over the river bottoms where the first pioneers settled in the 1850s.

Some of the bodies interred there were later moved to the present city cemetery, but many remain.

Modern residents are concerned with their quality of life. Recreation, wildlife and agriculture are important to them, Hale said. If growth continues unchecked over the next 20 years, about 19,000 more acres will be developed. If checked through Nebo Community Vision's planning concepts, development would be reduced to 14,000 acres.

Other suggestions include revising Spanish Fork's general plan for future open space considerations and to create agricultural preservation zones as part of the open space preservation effort.

Research found that with more open space preservation, residential building lots will likely become smaller but more valuable. The average Spanish Fork building lot now is 0.28 of an acre. That would shrink to 0.24. Lot values increase more when associated with open space, he said.

If Spanish Fork continues to grow as it is, the population, now about 20,000, could reach 32,098 with 4,090 new households by 2020, Hale said.

The research found no significant difference in transportation, air and water quality by maintaining the status quo, the consultants said.

"This is a good tool to work with," said Mayor Dale Barney. "It boils down what the residents want."

"We don't consider this the end of the project, but the beginning," Envision Utah project manager Bob Terragno said.

The consultants met with all 10 cities from Springville south over the past several months to advance its visioning project for Envision Utah. Community involvement in creating ideas for future land planning over the next 20 years has been gratifying, Hale said.

E-MAIL: rodger@desnews.com