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Do gated areas foster security — or elitism?

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DRAPER — The closed gate at the front of a South Mountain subdivision has opened the doors of the neighborhood.

"I think people like to know their neighbors," Karl Koerner said. "Because this is a community unto itself, we can actually go beyond being neighbors and be friends."

Koerner's neighborhood, the Heritage at South Mountain, consists of a few dozen duplex townhomes at the base of the mountain. The two-story homes have a view of the Salt Lake Valley and Oquirrh Mountains to the west, vaulted ceilings and soundproof walls.

While they may not be very different from many other South Mountain residences, the subdivision does have one anomaly: gates at each of the subdivision's two entrances. Only three other subdivisions are gated in Draper, and because of an ordinance passed late last year, no other development will become a gated community.

While those living within a community may feel a little closer to their neighbors, city leaders feel that the gates actually diminish the neighborhood feel that Draper residents pride themselves on, Deputy City Manager Eric Keck said.

"Gates do not create a sense of community, they create elitism," Keck said.

The ordinance prohibits any gates on a public street, and even on a private street it would be difficult to get one approved, Keck said. The primary reason for gating any development is concerns for safety, and since crime is a minor problem in Draper, safety is not a valid reason for the gates.

"If someone wanted to have a gated community, they would still have to justify that they need one," he said. "They would have to prove that there is a safety or crime concern . . . and that could be very difficult."

Since the ordinance was passed in December, one developer has asked to build a gated community and was denied. That developer, whose subdivision does not yet have a name, did not return phone calls.

Within Draper's gated communities, residents said that they had never placed a priority on living behind gates. Instead, the developments' other amenities attracted them, and the gate only became an added bonus. Three of the four subdivisions are primarily smaller townhomes or condominiums in which the managers take care of the lawns and shovel the sidewalks.

The primary benefit of the gates, said Nancy Koontz, a resident of the Cottages at Kimball Lane, is not increased safety but decreased traffic.

"We live in a bustling urban center," Koontz said. "When I come through the gates, it makes it more quiet and relaxing."

A feeling of elitism does not accompany that peace, however.

"I don't think there's anything elite about it in this day and age," she said. "It keeps the traffic away and makes you feel more secure."

Another Kimball Cottages resident, Lois Elstad, said that the general attitude of the subdivision's residents makes any feeling of elitism difficult. Before moving to Draper, she and her husband had lived in a much more exclusive gated community in another state, the kind of gated community that the city leaders hope to prevent.

"We moved here from a very nice area," she said. "Here, you can be single, young, old — it doesn't matter. I don't feel elite at all."


E-MAIL: jloftin@desnews.com