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Growth planning gets recognition

Governor will honor 14 cities and other groups

Ten years ago, Sandy city officials envisioned a town center in the middle of a cornfield. Now a field is a rare sight in the city, and city buildings sit where that corn once grew.

Nick Duerksen, Sandy community development director, attributes the city's ability to adapt to changing times to careful planning and a continually updated master plan.

"It's a plan to make sure our goals for the city stay intact," he said. "It keeps on the radar scope what kinds of things the city is going to need."

Gov. Olene Walker will recognize Sandy today along with 13 other cities, three counties and two special service districts for their commitment to planning for future growth. The cities, which include Salt Lake City, are the first batch of Quality Growth Communities named by the governor's Quality Growth Commission.

"A Quality Growth Community creates a responsible balance between the protection of natural resources — land, air and water — and the requisite development of residential, commercial and industrial land to accommodate our expanding economy and population," Walker said.

As a Quality Growth Community, cities get better loan rates for services, preferred access to water resources and priority funding for conservation and transportation.

John Bennett, project manager for the Quality Growth Commission, said the cities had to meet strict requirements to make the list, including showing continual revision of master plans, ample affordable housing and a strategy for conservation of critical lands. Cities also must identify their role in the region and show a plan to enhance that role.

"It's a rigorous planning process. It isn't enough to have a wish list," Bennett said. "You have to address the needs of the community in terms of the future."

The concept of giving priority to communities with solid plans for growth formed out of discussions with the state's water board, Bennett said. Agency officials were frustrated that cities waited until they were in a crisis before addressing planning needs.

Bennett said many state agencies were willing to cut loan rates and give priority to cities who showed they were working to plan for growth instead of being surprised by it.

"We're trying to address a problem before it becomes a crisis," he said. "The idea is to take the state spending and target it towards communities who are planning for their future."

Bennett said he was surprised to see cities like Payson and West Point make the first cut of Quality Growth Communities because smaller communities tend to have a harder time garnering resources to create a city plan. But Bennett said many smaller communities have taken their growth challenges to heart and are addressing them head-on.

Bennett said he expected larger cities like Salt Lake City to make the list because city leaders are constantly having to redraw master plans to adjust to growth and changing needs.

But Bennett added there are many cities in Utah still lacking the resources or will to make planning a priority.

"Some communities have chosen to grow in a way that's probably not sustainable in the long run," he said. "Whatever kind of community you are, you still need to plan."

The Quality Growth Communities are Summit County, Tooele County, Carbon County, Salt Lake City, American Fork, Murray, Midvale, West Valley City, Sandy, Provo, West Jordan, Riverton, Draper, Payson, West Point, Roy, Orem, the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District and the Utah Transit Authority.