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Mapleton struggling to retain rural ambience

Building-rights transfers may bring small lots

MAPLETON — Trying to protect the pristine hillsides on Maple Mountain is creating another dilemma for Mapleton officials: how to protect the city's rural ambience and lifestyle.

That question will be front-and-center for the city's Planning Commission on Thursday. Commissioners will be considering a proposed 134-lot development being sought by Suburban Land Reserve, a for-profit company owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The project involves 170-acres in southeast Mapleton, just off 1600 South. The lots will range from half an acre to five acres in size, said Mathew Evans, city planner.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 35 E. Maple.

Like many other hillside property owners, the LDS Church wants to make use of the city's transfer of development rights policy —TDR certificates — to increase the number of building permits it can use on the valley portion of its property. Such shifts can increase the permitted housing density for such developments.

That aspect of the TDR policy has some questioning whether Mapleton's vaunted rural lifestyle is being put in jeopardy. Currently, one-acre lots are considered small by city standards. Many fear the availability of TDRs will make smaller lot sizes more common, opening the door for more urban development.

City officials don't see that prospect.

Even with some downzoning and clustered housing on smaller lots, Mayor Dean Allan believes the city can protect the spirit of Mapleton's general plan and keep the community rural. He does not see the TDRs as a violation on public trust or the general plan.

"You have to have some tradeoffs . . . to keep our foothills pristine," he said.

And while he does not believe the ordinance will alter the face of Mapleton from rustic to urban, he concedes the ordinance will likely result in greater housing density west of U.S. 89. That is where former city councilman Boyd Adams is proposing 220 lots on 60 acres, with lots averaging just over a quarter acre each.

Councilman Ben Card said only about 300 TDRs are possible and he doesn't think that will have an adverse impact on the city's overall density.

Property owners on the valley floor, meanwhile, are using the TDRs to override large-lot zoning requirements.

Violet Lindsay recently gained city permission to create three lots on her 5.3 acres on 1600 South, where under normal rules she would have been allowed only two. She wanted three lots for her adult children. After buying a development right certificate a couple of months ago, she gained city approval, which includes sewer hookups for each lot.

"I paid $17,000 for it (the TDR)," she said.

The ordinance has the potential to allow neighborhoods to develop into a mix of suburban and rural areas. Developer Jerry Riding recently gained permission to use TDRs for three 1/3-acre lots on 800 South where most neighborhood homes are on 1 or 2 acres and include the right to own farm animals. Riding's new homes will not have farm animals rights, however.

Riding wanted nine lots, and he may eventually get them if a second phase is approved, Mayor Allan conceded.

"I hate to see that happen," one resident said.

A committee of residents has been reviewing the LDS Church proposal since last November and will report to the Planning Commission on Thursday. Card, who sits on the committee as the council representative, says the Planning Commission is expected to give the plan a favorable recommendation.

"It's a very good project," Card said. "It's very professionally done."

The City Council also appears to be leaning to approve it, Allen said, noting, "The community seems to be behind the idea."

"It's a first-class operation," Allan added.

The only stumbling block appears to be sewer issues. The project cannot go forward, the mayor said, unless capacity issues are resolved. Mapleton shares its sewer with Spanish Fork's treatment plant, which is nearing capacity.

The church-owned hillside property, sans its building rights, would be placed in a conservation easement.

"I know it's going to happen," said Marilyn Petersen, who lives nearby. "I hope it happens in the best way possible and with the least impact on the community."

But she's concerned about the increased traffic that will spill out onto 1600 South and the potential for slides down an eastside canyon where mud and debris emptied onto the area after a fire more than a decade ago.

Petersen's family moved to southeast Mapleton 23 years ago for its relaxed country lifestyle and mix of people, she said. Without the TDRs, only one house for every two acres would be allowed.

"I'd rather (city leaders) would use the codes in place rather than the TDRs," another neighbor said.