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Future Mountain Green interchange discussed

Article Date: 
17 May, 2013 (All day)

As plans for 533 dwelling units on 105 acres in Mountain Green proceed, residents want to see room for a future interstate exchange that is now missing from the developer’s proposed master plan for the Mountain Green Village Planned Unit Development.  However, some say reserving land indefinitely for a future right of way is not feasible.
“I was shocked not to see the interchange on this plan,” said resident Cameron Russell.  “In the future there will be a need for a proper interchange.”
“Our spirits are doubtful we will get the interchange, a connection for a potential interchange to I-84,” said Charlie Ewert, county planning and building division department director.  With cost estimates from $30 million to $50 million, and space restraints due to the Weber River and railroad line, the project would be an expensive one that is not high on UDOT’s priority lists.  Some estimates put the project at least 20 years out.
“A prior iteration showed access to an interchange,” said Jody Burnett, an attorney retained by Morgan County.  “We sent the message we don’t think we can realistically make that happen.  They changed it to eliminate that.”
“It was not our intent to put in a master plan that flew in the face of the (Mountain Green) area plan,” said Bruce Baird, legal counsel for developer Dewayne Johnson.  “Because the county knew the price and time frame, it didn’t make sense to keep it, so we took it off.  Nobody believes it is likely to happen in this decade.”
Burnett called it a conundrum and difficult challenge.
“I have to say candidly, we can’t just ask an applicant to preserve a corridor indefinitely and not develop their property.”
 “If we restrict what the property can do, that would be a taking,” County Councilman Lyle Nelson said.
Securing a full right of way through Johnson’s property would mean the county would have to enter into negotiations with three other property owners as well, Burnett said.  
“It is a complicated issue with a lot of moving parts,” he said.  “I don’t doubt the need, but it becomes a challenge of the chicken or the egg of preserving that corridor.”
County Councilwoman Tina Kelley said the county has other options than securing a right of way from the developer, Dewayne Johnson.  For example, Baxter Enterprises owning land to the east of the proposed development has expressed willingness to providing a right of way.
However, securing such rights of way could include the county having to pay for it.  Kelley said the county doesn’t have the money to purchase it.
“You can’t ask them to hold that ground indefinitely,” she said.  
While an interchange may not happen in the immediate future, the developer is planning on reserving 40 feet of frontage along Old Highway Road in case the road needs to be widened in the future.
Resident Carl Abbott, who lives near the proposed development on Old Highway Road, doesn’t like the idea of widening the road.  
“That is a colossal failure for some of us to lose our house or yard to the widening of the road, so that skiers can get to Trappers Loop quicker,” said Abbott, who has lived in the county for almost four years.  
Residents in the area say that traffic in the area is already a problem, and failing to plan for ways to accommodate more traffic created by the project is unwise. 
“I am here to plead with you to please help us designate a corridor now (for a future interchange),” said resident Carol Ralphs.  “Find a way to designate it now so that when the need and demand arises, we as a county are prepared.  We don’t want to have such a huge danger to our community.”
Despite traffic studies conducted by both Snowbasin and Morgan County in 2011 and 2012 that claim future development would pose no traffic hazards to the existing Old Highway Road, residents living along the road claim traffic is already bad.
“Old Highway Road is an unsafe condition,” said Abe Murdock, who lives north of the proposed development.  “I have almost been hit by traffic.  This traffic issue is bigger than some of you realize.”  
“Traffic on Old Highway is a problem,” said John Bearnson, who has a business in the Mountain Green industrial park and is building a home in the area.  “Snowbasin is getting busy up there.”
“We are not trying to fight (the developer),” said resident Dixie Munsee.  “I hope we can all work together to make it a safe and wonderful place it has been for years.”
Because rooftops don’t pay for county services and school-related costs, many on the county council wanted a way to require commercial development go in before or in certain relationship to new residential development.  
“I appreciate they have some commercial in this, but what happens if they decide to scrap that?” asked Councilman Robert Kilmer.  “Developers get their money and they are gone.  They don’t pay for new roads, or to repair and maintain the roads for increased use.”
Burnett said there is no way to mandate the timing of residential and commercial development, other than to say that commercially zoned areas must be developed commercially instead of as residential units.  
Nelson said business other than retail makes sense in the area.
However, the developer wants the development agreement to allow wiggle room for market conditions and demand.  Plans include room for a hotel, but the agreement contemplates allowing the hotel parcel to revert to other commercial uses in case a hotel cannot be secured within about three years.  
The developer is making final touches on the master development agreement, at more than 50 pages, with the county.  The item may be on the May 21 council agenda.
One provision of the agreement includes the developer paying for a contract county employee to provide for the project’s timely approvals.  
“It would be well worth consideration to allow that to happen,” Ewert said.  “I strongly advocate we get someone on line to provide for the platting review of this project so it doesn’t cause undue burden through our office.”
Despite the planning commission’s desire to require secondary water for the subdivision, county code doesn’t require it so it can’t be mandated, Ewert said.  
Abbott, who does not have secondary water at his residence, said residents in the new subdivision should “pay at the meter like those of us already in the area have to.”
Bart Smith said the Highlands Water Company drilled a new well in the area of the proposed development.  The well produces 1,200 gallons a minute and would be sufficient to provide water to the development, up to 1,000 new units.
“Water is not really an issue when it comes to this plan,” Smith said.  “We haven’t used the well yet.”
The development agreement will also include development standards that may allow for varying setbacks and architectural designs.  Such standards would allow for building closer to the road and putting parking in the back, similar to standards identified by a Design Assistance Team that studied and made land planning recommendations of the Mountain Green area years ago.