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Heber Valley, St. George grapple with soaring growth

Published September 22, 2005 1:30 am

New neighbors: Both Washington County and Heber Valley are ranked No. 2 for communities their size for growth rates
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nestled in the mountains, surrounded by golf courses, ski resorts and good fishing, the Heber Valley has always been one of Utah's recreation havens.

During the past few years it has also become one of Utah's hottest real-estate markets.

But while people are streaming in, jobs are not keeping pace - that's just one consequence of being one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report today that ranks growth in population centers broken into two classifications - metro and micro areas.

Metro areas include at least one urban locale with more than 50,000 people. Micro areas, a new designation, include one urban cluster with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents.

Utah regions fill the No. 2 spot on both lists.

Only Greeley, Colo., is growing at a faster clip than St. George in the metro category, another indication of the population explosion that continues to rock Washington County.

St. George's population grew by 15.2 percent from 2000 to 2003, according to the report.

Since then, St. George area growth has shown no signs of slowing. A recent study shows more than 1,000 new homes were under construction in the first six months of 2005.

Heber Valley claimed the No. 2 position on the micro list, behind Florida's Palm Coast, with a three-year growth rate of 15.1 percent - or 3,000 new residents.

"It's kind of a shock to me. It is actually pretty frightening," said Heber City Mayor Lynn Adams. "It gives you a sense of the magnitude of the problems we can face in the future. It is hard to keep up with" demand for government services.

Most new residents are living in recently built homes on large lots in unincorporated parts of the county, said Jennifer Kohler, director of the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce, who has witnessed the growth that continues to eat away at open space.

"We realize we can't keep the gates shut and keep people out of our recreation area," she said.

Kohler estimates half of the new homes are used sporadically by recreation lovers, while the other half are primary residences for families.

And many of those full-time residents must either leave the valley for work or take a job in the tourist industry.

"It is one of our biggest concerns that people always have to commute out," Adams said.

Heber is a 15-minute drive from Park City, 20 minutes from Provo and 45 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City.

To combat the commuter image, Kohler is hoping to attract industry and high-tech jobs to places such as Heber City and Midway.

The biggest employer is the schools. The Wasatch School District is constructing the Old Mill Elementary School, its fourth.

The new school will open its doors in August and will be able to hold up to 900 students.

Wasatch Superintendent Terry Shoemaker hopes the new facility will absorb the growth in the student population for the next five years. Then he will have to go back to the people to ask for another bond for the next school.

"You can go any direction," he said, "and see the effects of development in this valley."

mcanham@sltrib.com