Amid a wave of new development, some in Ogden Valley push to incorporate

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OGDEN VALLEY – Much of the land in Ogden’s upper valley remains unincorporated and under control of Weber County’s three commissioners.

But since late 2022, a group of Ogden Valley residents have worked to launch a new city that would be governed by people who actually live there.

That desire for self determination is nothing new and has played out repeatedly in county-controlled areas up and down Utah’s Wasatch Front and beyond. 

Even in Ogden Valley, an attempt to incorporate a smaller portion of the area about 13 years ago failed the feasibility test. But this time around, the new city would encompass more land, more residents and more tax base. 

The proposed Ogden Valley city includes most of the valley floor – Eden, Liberty, Nordic Valley and unincorporated areas of Huntsville (the town of Huntsville incorporated in 1924). But it excludes federal land, a Wildlife Management Area, North Fork Park, and Snow Basin and Powder Mountain ski resorts. 

According to the updated feasibility study conducted by LRB Public Finance Advisors, 7,583 people call this scenic land mass (about 63 square miles) home, and its proximity to year-round recreation make it a prime attraction for well-heeled homebuyers and developers. 

Zillow shows Eden’s average home price at $791,000 – an increase of 3.7 percent over the past year. For Ogden – its urban counterpart on the other side of the Wasatch mountain range – its average home price now hovers around $390,970, 4.3 percent up from a year ago. 

Amid limiting factors that include a finite water supply, limited road access and lack of  broad municipal sewer service, development projects continue to knock on the valley’s door. 

Amid severe drought, the Wolf Creek Water & Sewer Improvement District stopped issuing “will serve” letters from July 2021 to April 2022 that effectively shutdown development of existing lots waiting for culinary water. 

New water sources had to be identified before the moratorium could be lifted.

But as soon as developers got the green light to proceed, ambitious plans sprung up, prompting pushback from residents who worried about the changing face of their valley.

Those developments included:

  • Osprey Ranch (600 acres, 2 phases, 61 homesites), phase 1 lots for sale
  • Proposed ski village at Nordic Valley Ski Resort (565 housing units)
  • Proposed Eden Crossing (20-acres, mixed use, up to 325 housing units and possible hotel) near the intersection of Highways 158 and 166
  • Proposed New Town Eden (17-acres, mixed use, up to 170 housing units) also near the intersection of Highways 158 and 166

As of mid-2023, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Ogden Valley had joined four other unincorporated areas in Utah seeking to incorporate: Riddermark in Iron County, Spring Lake in Utah County, West Hills in Summit County and Benson in Cache County.

Why incorporate?

Eden resident Kimbal Wheatley spent the better part of three decades fighting for local control in Ogden Valley. But in recent years, he moved his primary residence to a desert community in Southern Utah. 

Wheatley said they now spend summers in Eden, ski a bit in the winter, but now can “take winter in a bite.” 

With Eden no longer his primary residence,  Wheatley won’t be eligible to vote in November for the incorporation, but he believes it could be the area’s best and perhaps last opportunity to shape its future. 

“If it doesn’t have a chance this time, I don’t know if it ever will,” Wheatley said by phone. “Within 10 years, the county commission will have made all the decisions that will affect the entire future – things you can’t change.” 

Under the status quo, simple math indicates that Ogden Valley voters essentially have no voice in electing Weber County’s three commissioners. 

“The population of Ogden Valley is a tiny percentage of Weber County and the population of Weber County voters in the valley is even smaller,” Wheatley said, noting that just over 97 percent of Weber County voters live outside the Valley. “So there’s zero ability for the local people in Ogden Valley to have any influence over who’s elected to be their governors, their land planners.” 

With most of the Commission’s constituents living outside the Valley, Wheatley sees a disconnect in their priorities. 

“If you ask people in Ogden what they want Ogden Valley to look like in the future, you get an entirely different thing than if you ask people from Ogden Valley what they want it to look like,” Wheatley said. “Ogden Valley folks say ‘don’t make it like Park City.’ But if you ask people from Ogden, they say ‘make it like Park City.’”

Real Estate Broker Brandi Hammon, who founded Mountain Luxury Real Estate, serves as one of the incorporation’s six sponsors. She moved to Ogden Valley as a preteen when her parents were splitting up.

“I really wasn’t very well grounded at that point,” Hammon said, noting that life in the Valley gave her some much needed connection. “I got to be outside, be on the trails, ski and ride horses. It was just this place that I really needed at the time and the people were so kind.” 

Since then, Hammon said she’s seen decisions being made that impact her  community’s future.

“It was apparent to me that commissioners were pretty out of touch with what our needs were and what made the Valley really amazing,” Hammon said. “Communities have their own personalities … my hope is that the local community can have the ability to make those decisions.”

Weber County has two planning commissions that serve in advisory roles and consist of members appointed by the county’s three elected commissioners. 

In November 2023, the Ogden Valley Planning Commission voted 5-2 to deny a rezone request for Eden Crossing. Opponents claimed it violated the area’s 2018 general plan.

About two weeks later (Dec. 5), after extensive public comment against Eden Crossing, Weber County’s three elected commissioners voted 2-1 to approve the rezone.

Wheatley viewed that action as the “last straw,” providing ample fuel to fire up the fight for incorporation.

“The Eden Crossing thing was never what was intended in the general plan –  ever,” Wheatley said.

But the tug of war between the advisory-only planning commission and Weber’s three commissioners continues to replay in what looks like habitual override.

On May 21, the Ogden Valley Planning Commission held a public hearing  to consider a similar rezone request from Holladay-based Cowboy Partners for the 17-acre New Town Eden project.

During that session, the panel voted to table the request until June 25 in order to address residents’ concerns.

Why not incorporate?

However, there are Ogden Valley residents who would prefer to stay under county control, in part to limit the size of government. 

A website called Keep Our Valley Free – which shows Huntsville resident Laura Warburton as an administrator – argues against incorporation, warning that taxes will increase, new city-imposed regulations will limit individual property rights – and that local control is largely an illusion.

Warburton has served as an appointed member on various county boards, including the Ogden Valley Planning Commission.

“We are not an island and we can’t shut the gates,” the site says, labeling the Ogden Valley dream a “false narrative with flawed logic.”

“While zoning changes are possible, they must align with state law, and the community’s history of emotional resistance without viable alternatives will lead to legal battles,” the site says. 

Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer, a former state lawmaker, also lives in Huntsville and has long been part of a large real estate brokerage with financial holdings scattered throughout Weber County, including the Ogden Valley area.

A letter from Weber’s three commissioners, included in the appendix of the updated LRB feasibility study, states the county’s neutrality on the question of Ogden Valley’s incorporation. 

Long haul

Nick Dahlkamp, also an incorporation sponsor, moved to the Ogden Valley about four years ago. A retired mechanical engineer, Dahlkamp felt his project management skills could prove useful as they sought to clear all the legal hurdles required to incorporate.

“It’s a process that you have to follow … reasonably well documented and explained in the law, although the law can be convoluted at times,” Dahlkamp said by phone recently, adding that it comes down to understanding the time-based steps and knowing who’s responsible to perform each of them.

To Dahlkamp, Ogden Valley’s two divergent camps basically consist of those who would prefer to stick with “the devil you know” and those who believe the status quo is no longer tenable. 

“The opposition is entitled to their viewpoints, but my interest is in seeing this through,” Dahlkamp said. “I’d like to give the community a choice.”

Is it financially feasible?

In order to incorporate, Utah law requires that the proposed area be contiguous, have at least 1,000 residents and population density of at least seven people per square mile. Also, the proposed city’s tax revenues must exceed its expenses by at least five percent within five years. 

Ogden Valley’s updated feasibility study indicated 7,583 residents and a density of 120 people per square mile. It also projected three different scenarios where revenues would exceed expenses by an average 6.7 to 9.4 percent over five years. 

That financial data also included reimbursing the state for feasibility study costs, Hammon said. 

The first scenario included building a government office building (for an estimated $1.7 million which includes land purchase) and acquiring the county-owned road shop for another $384,000.

The second scenario includes only the road shop, and the third option would be no office building or road shop acquisition within the city’s first five years.

The updated study included revised boundaries for the proposed Ogden Valley city, where seven parcels annexed into Huntsville town were taken out, along with federal and state-owned parcels and the Middle Fork Wildlife Management Area.

Since enacting a transient room tax is a task that would fall to the new city’s elected officials, that future revenue source could not be included in the study’s expense-revenue analysis.

But Hammon said it would make sense to charge a TRT tax because 100 percent of that revenue would come back to the new city.

During Utah’s 2024 legislative session, lawmakers voted in a change to incorporation law that now requires incorporation sponsors to pay feasibility study costs up front. This measure took effect May 1, 2024 and is not retroactive.

Another incorporation bill that would have steepened the revenue-expense ratio to 10 percent rather than five cleared the Senate but failed to come up for debate and a vote in the state House of Representatives.

What’s Next?

Dahlkamp divided Utah’s incorporation process into four stages: 1) Feasibility study (initial and revised), 2) Petition to incorporate, 3) Vote to incorporate and 4) Incorporation implementation.

Incorporation sponsors have worked in tandem with the Lieutenant Governor’s office to clear each hurdle. In 2023 they circulated petitions to gather enough signatures to commence the feasibility study process. The LG’s office then hired LRB to conduct the initial study, which finished Dec. 7, 2023.

Sponsors held their first public hearing Jan. 30, 2024. which was followed by revised boundary maps and an updated feasibility study. 

Their second public hearing held Monday (June 3) at 6:30 p.m. in Eden’s Snowcrest Jr. High School.

Then a second round of petitions begins, with the goal of gathering enough signatures to put the question to Ogden Valley voters this November. 

Sponsors are now hosting a series of “Incorporation Talks” through the summer, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Huntsville Branch of the Weber County Library. Scheduled dates and topics include:

  • June 13 – Taxation & Revenue Raising
  • June 25 – Advantages & Disadvantages of Contracting Services
  • July 9 – Land Development Process
  • July 30 – Transition Plan
  • Aug. 6 – External Relations 
  • Aug. 20 – Contributing to the Well-being of my Community as a Citizen
  • Sept. 10 – Forms of Government Options

If a simple majority of Valley voters favor incorporation, the city’s first mayor and city council will get elected in November 2025. Weighty transition planning will also play out during the city’s first year.

Taking the leap

Although incorporation efforts seem daunting and somewhat speculative and awkward, seasoned city leaders have seen the process play out successfully many times through the years. 

West Valley City had been incorporated for about 17 years by the time Wayne Pyle hired on as assistant city manager. Five years later, he became its city manager and served for the next 21 years until retiring this January.

During his time there, Pyle said he was involved in or observed a number of incorporation and annexation efforts in Salt Lake County.

“Incorporation efforts happen often,” Pyle said, citing some that took more than one attempt.

Pyle has owned a vacation home in Ogden Valley since 2007.

“I always think that the government closest to the people is best,” Pyle said.  “As far as Ogden Valley itself, I’m really pretty neutral.”

But many have sought his perspective, and Pyle said he’s been happy to help.

“I’m trying to give them as clear-eyed a vision as I can on what the opportunities and challenges would be,” he said by phone recently. “Local control really is the main point here. Certainly that’s a big factor in the pattern of development in the future for Ogden Valley.”

Building Salt Lake is adding more coverage from submarkets along the Wasatch Front. If you’d like to see more coverage like this, please consider supporting our mission by becoming a Member today.

Email Cathy McKitrick

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect the dates of the “will serve” letters in Wolf Creek, and to correct the outcome of a recent vote by the Weber County Commission.