A dramatic shift recently occurred in Emery County land use policy which perhaps was not noticed by the majority of my fellow citizens or was regarded as being of little consequence. Within the past month, two of our three Emery County Commissioners voted to reduce zoning requirements for construction on mountain lots from 80 to 40 acres, a reduction from a previous 320 acre requirement. This decision will change the fundamental use of Emery County lands, shift ownership to wealthy out-of-county citizens, greatly increase the public tax burden and diminish the enjoyment of public lands by Emery County citizens.
Previous county officials realized the danger of having numerous sewer systems installed upstream from our cities' drinking water and enacted the original zoning requirements to protect our watershed. Beyond our drinking water, the original zoning requirements protected the use of public lands adjacent to private mountain properties by causing private properties to be maintained in an open condition, typically used for agriculture. The new, less rigorous zoning requirements will make mountain lands developable and therefore diminish the capacity of ranchers to continue their use of the land. As the land will now be more valuable for residential use, ranchers will be compelled to sell their property and residential construction will begin to clutter the previously open mountain pastures.
What's more, the increased development and purchase of the land for residential purposes is not likely to be by current Emery County residents. Instead, wealthy individuals from Salt Lake and Utah counties and perhaps transplants from California with their superior purchasing power will buy up the land and install their summer homes here. Once residential cabins are constructed on every 40 acres of private mountain property and the beauty of the land has been seriously diminished thereby, there will be no compelling reason not to further reduce zoning requirements to allow construction on every 20 acres and then on every 10 and, eventually, on 1/3 acre lots. It certainly is a slippery slope.
The ranchers' way of life will not be the sole casualty of such change. The aesthetic beauty of the land will be marginalized not only by new construction, but also by the corresponding increased use of the land. Further, whereas campers and recreational users previously enjoyed the public land adjacent to private mountain properties inhabited only by a few horses and cows, they will now be camping, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, hiking and riding ATVs next to veritable subdivisionsÃ¯Â¿Â½so much for being able to "get away."
An additional consideration is the cost of extending services to far-flung residential locations. As dwellings are constructed farther and farther from city centers, the cost of servicing such dwellings will rise exponentially. Fire, ambulance and police services will only be made more expensive by rising fuel costs. These costs will not be borne solely by the new inhabitants but will be foisted upon each Emery County property owner.
Although these changes affect each of us in our enjoyment of Emery County lands, there is a danger that our individual interests are so diffuse that few will step forward to protest the cluttering of our mountain vistas by subdivisions or the increases to our tax burdens.
If we do not act, developers will continue to persuade our commissioners to reduce the zoning requirements. This will not only affect our enjoyment of the land, but also that of our children. For those of you in support of the recent change, remember that the commissioners and relevant departments can grant exceptions where warranted on a case-by-case basis.
In summary, the recent decision of our Emery County Commissioners will compromise the traditional use of public lands by Emery County citizens and, indeed, our heritage. It will do so by diminishing the pristine beauty of the places that we all enjoy, shifting the ownership of our lands out of the county and limiting the use of our public lands for camping, hunting and other recreational purposes.
All of this will increase the tax burden on Emery County citizens. It is therefore my plea that each of you join with me in contacting Commissioners Horrocks and Kofford to urge them to revisit and overturn their recent decision.