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Land selling like hot cakes in Utah's Dixie

Proposed Southern Corridor is fueling purchases by developers

ST. GEORGE — Developers are snatching up land around Utah's Dixie at such a fast and furious pace that city officials are scrambling to keep up.

"It's not the town I grew up in," said Hurricane City Manager Clark Fawcett, who remembers being able to walk anywhere in town without crossing a single busy street. "I might have to find another place to retire before too long."

Hurricane's population has tripled over the past 15 years, rising to more than 13,000 residents. But that's nothing compared to the residential gains that could impact the rural town if private developers get their way.

On the horizon within Hurricane city limits alone is Dixie Springs, with 1,400 homes and up to 40,000 lots now in the master planning stages by Idaho-based McNeil Development.

"We've always had the 5- and 10-acre parcels under development," said Fawcett. "What we're seeing now is the 1,000-acre and 2,000-acre sites. It's spreading out all over the place."

In fact, most of the nearly 85,000 acres of developable land within Washington County lies on the southeast side of I-15 and is already pegged for future residential projects. The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve hugs the north side of the county, and state or federal land holdings eat up much of the rest.

Housing costs are also skyrocketing, with the average home price soaring to more than $250,000 in most of Washington County. Some of the planned developments within the county will include "smart growth" ideas, which should provide more affordable housing choices in some locations.

"We're working with developers and the City Council to try and find a way to increase affordable housing," St. George Mayor Dan McArthur said during his successful re-election campaign. "We're looking at density issues and whether bonuses will work as incentives to build more of this type of housing."

St. George officials already have their hands full with more than 7,500 residential units approved throughout the city. Developments with names like Sunbrook, Stone Cliff, Fossil Hills, Entrada and Sun River are attracting thousands of homeowners — and more are on the way.

Another 5,000-acre development, called "The Ledges," is under development on the northeast side of St. George along U-18. The project is one of many under construction in Washington County that include a golf course as part of the package.

One of the biggest projects on the horizon is a massive, mixed-use development known as the "South Block," proposed for the southeast side of I-15.

Owners of the 10,000-acre site, which stretches to the Utah/Arizona border, are the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and Leucadia, a private firm that plans to build walkable communities in what is now a dry desert landscape.

Tying much of the development between Hurricane and St. George together is the proposed Southern Corridor, a 26-mile, $84 million beltway starting two miles north of the Arizona border on I-15 and looping around to meet U-9 at 2800 West in Hurricane.

The St. George replacement airport is also nearing its final environmental hurdle, which means the $110 million project could get under way within the next year. The new airport site is nestled between I-15 and the proposed Southern Corridor, both southeast of the city.

The new highway would provide access not only to future residential developments but the replacement airport and a whole host of expected aviation-related businesses.

Just last month the Federal Highway Administration and the Utah Department of Transportation released the Record of Decision, which paves the way for construction to begin on the first phase of the Southern Corridor. The Atkinville Interchange is near Sun River, a huge community for active adults located on the southern tip of Bloomington.

Funds for the entire project will come from public and private sources, said UDOT Region 4 spokesman Myron Lee.

"We have $10 million to spend on the Atkinville Interchange, and we need $16 million," said Lee. "We're trying to find $3 million from another source and trying to lower the cost of the project by another $3 million."

Before construction begins on the interchange next summer, two habitat preserves will be fenced off to protect endangered plant species. Once the interchange is completed and open to traffic, it's up to developers to fund most of the $84 million projected price tag for the Southern Corridor highway, he noted.

"At this point we don't have the resources to acquire land or build roads. What we've done is preserve the corridor," Lee said. "Our approach is that it will take a public and private effort to build it."

In other words, it's really up to developers and city officials to make sure the planned corridor is protected and eventually built. That project will certainly take years to complete, although developers are likely to move forward whether the highway is finished or not.

"We're at that crossroads where everything's coming too fast and too hard for the city," said Fawcett. "It could cause problems. What we don't want is for growth to spread out all over the place."

To view UDOT's report on the Southern Corridor, log on to udot.utah.gov/sc.


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com