Utahns want to see mixed-use urban centers, more public transportation options and growth in west county as Utah County’s population booms, according to results from an Envision Utah survey.
Envision Utah has worked with government officials, the Association of Utah County Chambers, the Utah County Chamber of Commerce, Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University and other groups to gauge public opinion on what growth in Utah County should look like as it prepares for rapid population increases.
According to the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, the county’s population is expected to double by 2050.
Last year, Envision Utah held workshops composed of various stakeholders to put together five “growth scenarios” for Utah County. The different scenarios included spread out growth versus high-density centers, south county growth versus west county growth or “urban infill” near Orem and Provo.
The group then put out a “Valley Visioning” survey asking the public which of these growth scenarios they would most prefer to see.
More than 11,000 Utahns took the survey, according to Envision Utah CEO Ari Bruening.
One of the biggest takeaways from the survey, Bruening said, is that “people are ready to do things a little bit differently than in the past” and are open to a wider variety of housing options “as opposed to just single-family homes.”
Of all respondents, more than 31% said they wanted to see more urban centers and “walkable communities that put people closer to daily services,” according to a report highlighting the survey results. At the same time, 21% said they wanted to see empty lots near Orem and Provo be filled in and only 10% said they wanted growth to follow past trends, which has been characterized by large office parks built along Interstate 15 that residents commute to.
Residents reported that they wanted to see a greater mix of housing, including town homes, apartments and condos, while still “preserving single-family neighborhoods.”
Just over 25% of respondents said west Utah County, near Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, would be the best area to accommodate new development. Only 11.6% said growth would be best in south county near Benjamin and Salem.
“It seems pretty clear that there’s pretty strong agreement across the county that people would rather grow west than south,” Bruening said. “And I think that’s because to the south is where a lot of the best ag land is.”
Bruening added that this sentiment “wasn’t just a ‘don’t grow in my backyard’ response” and that “even the people in Eagle Mountain felt this way.”
In addition to wanting to preserve agricultural land, Bruening said these results likely show that residents want to avoid building on south county land prone to earthquake and liquefaction risk.
“The same conditions that create good soils for agriculture also create a liquefaction risk in an earthquake, which is where the soil basically turns to quicksand,” he said, adding that there is less risk of liquefaction in west county.
Another finding of the survey was that residents want more transportation options, including public transit and more infrastructure for biking and walking.
“People said … ‘We would rather have things closer to us and more transportation and the ability to walk, even if that means maybe a little bit more congestion,’” said Bruening.
One of the biggest concerns with Utah County’s population growth is how it will impact air quality, according to Bruening. A high number of survey respondents said they would support using less grass and transitioning from traditional landscaping in order to conserve water.
More than 32% of respondents said they would be open to “localscaping,” landscaping with “some grass with water-efficient plants,” to make their properties more sustainable, and 27.5% said they would consider xeriscaping with “primarily water-efficient plants (and) little grass.” Just over 18% said they preferred traditional landscaping.
Residents also expressed support for more electric cars in order to improve air quality, said Bruening.
“People want the cleanest air possible,” he said, “so they voted for more electric vehicles.”
Now that the survey results are in, the next step will be to share the results with city and business officials and “frame up a vision that’ll help the county get to where people said they want to go,” Bruening said, adding that this vision should be released in early April.
Piecing together the vision will involve creating models of land use, water use and transportation based on the survey results and input from city leaders and development experts, he said.
Bruening added that it would not be binding or mandate that county and city officials implement it.
“This is a voluntary vision,” he said. “Nobody’s required to do anything. This is just the people of the county speaking saying ‘this is the direction we want to go.’”