Pride and progress – Spanish Fork addresses community growth

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In Spanish Fork, there’s an old bell tower that sits atop city hall, one of the oldest buildings in town.

The more seasoned citizens attended elementary school in the building and still affectionately call it the old “Thurber School.” In our city we’re proud of where we’ve been and excited for where we’re going.  In 2017 we rebranded our city with the motto, “Pride and Progress,” and our logo includes an image of the bell tower.

In the last decade Spanish Fork has doubled in population. What used to be a community of 20,000 has grown to over 40,000. Spanish Fork is a microcosm of the growth happening in Utah County and across the state. As First Vice President of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, I know many cities are facing the same opportunities and challenges as we are in Spanish Fork. In fact, at ULCT’s Annual Convention in September, nearly 500 city leaders unanimously supported a resolution committing to innovatively address these challenges using the keys cities possess. These keys include the authority to plan, zone, and provide for infrastructure. For example:

Infrastructure.  Spanish Fork City has worked for years to make sure we have the wherewithal to accommodate growth. The investments the community has made in water, power, and wastewater treatment infrastructure over several decades allow us to provide for new development.  After all, nobody wants a home or a business where the toilets don’t flush.

New Homes.  Spanish Fork City issued more than 400 permits for new homes in 2018- the highest number since 2007. The growth occurring is a mix of apartments, townhomes, and single-family homes. And even though we don’t expect a Frontrunner or TRAX station to come to Spanish Fork for a while, we are already planning for a transit-oriented development in our downtown.

Higher Density.  Spanish Fork has modified its zoning regulations to allow for new types of developments and higher densities. Higher densities are being planned to work in tandem with regional transportation plans.

Reasonable Fees.  Spanish Fork has managed to plan for future needs and the impacts of growth without significantly raising the costs of permits or impact fees.

New Opportunities.  Spanish Fork continues to evaluate potential changes to enhance the community and provide additional housing options. The City Council recently directed staff to evaluate the city’s regulations on accessory dwelling units and engage residents in the process. Residents participate in the process via survey and during weekly council meetings.

A recent survey by Y2 Analytics confirms that residents trust local elected officials more than any other level of government to communicate with them about growth. Attempts to solve the challenges associated with growth in our communities requires respect, collaboration, and focus on the desired outcomes at all levels of government. Without these fundamentals, we risk creating more anxiety and confusion among the residents that we have taken an oath to serve.

I’ve been elected twice to help manage and plan for the growth in Spanish Fork. I am also a contributor to that growth. My wife and I moved back to the city where we grew up, first renting a basement apartment on Center Street where our landlord was a retired widow. We sometimes came home from work to find our laundry folded neatly on top of the dryer. Amber would help put curlers in our landlord’s hair and drops in her aging eyes. Mrs. Brunson passed away a few years ago, and we cherish the time we spent with her. We subsequently moved to an entry level home and have since moved to our current home with our three young kids in what is considered the middle market for our area.

Each city and town is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to planning for growth. People don’t choose where they live solely based on essential services. They seek the “quality of life” that cities work to create and maintain through effective, visionary community planning. I’m proud of the progress that we are making together both in Spanish Fork and in cities and towns across Utah.