Hoytsville • After four generations of milking cows, members of the venerable Brown family are closing down the last commercial dairy operating in eastern Summit County and selling much of the land to developers.
Their ancestral property is the largest chunk of about 1,000 contiguous acres of farmland going the same way in the bosom of tiny Hoytsville, a mountain town of some 700 residents along the Weber River south of Coalville — with the potential to add thousands more in the coming decades.
Mike Brown is 51 and the latest in his clan to manage Brown Dairy over the family’s 70-plus years in the business, and now he’s closing a crucial chapter.
As he drove his pickup recently along Creamery Lane, Brown joked of two unmistakable signs that the decline of traditional farming has reached your household: a spouse works in town and the increasing number of turns in the irrigation pipes.
Brown, his family, farm hands and a few neighbors watched a couple of weeks ago as hauling trucks loaded up and carted 250 or so prized head of Holstein cattle and 50 others along Hoytsville Road and out of the valley, the last of nearly 650 he has sold.
It was a revelatory moment, he said. Some of those farm animals, bred through the years from the dairy’s original stocks, were akin to loved ones.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘You’re just doing this all for money and greed,’” Brown said. “Well, if that’s what money and greed feel like, I would have been real disappointed. That felt more like a death to me.”
It’s also evident, the former county planning commissioner said, that Summit County is not serious about supporting what little full-scale farming is left. Brown said he hopes to buy another farm with the sale proceeds to keep that heritage in his family, but he’ll do that elsewhere.
“They sit and bawl about it and it sounds good,” he said, “but agriculture is irrelevant in Summit County — and that’s really one of the main things driving all of this.”
With farms dwindling in size for decades or giving way to development all along the Interstate 80 corridor from Kimball Junction northward, residents of Hoytsville, Coalville, Wanship and half-dozen other small towns have long seen residential growth rolling toward them.
Now, said Mike Crittenden, another Hoytsville resident among those poised to sell, that prospect is no longer in the distance.
“It’s really funny. You could have gone 50 years and never had a stick of ground come available,” Crittenden said. “And now, all of a sudden, the whole town is for sale, you know, the heart of it, because all these families just hit the end of the line agriculturally.”
How to stay a village
If Crittenden, the Browns and two dozen or so of the rural community’s largest legacy landowners get their dream, this won’t be another of the numberless stories about disappearing ways of life or open spaces vanishing under housing subdivisions across Utah’s Wasatch Back.
These multigenerational clans with their names on Hoytsville’s oldest barns and country lanes have collaborated quietly for years — and against many odds — to enshrine a plan to keep their land as a village even as it adds homes and residents.
Using a section of Summit County code created to bolster its waning smaller communities, the landowners have worked steadily since 2018 — and arguably long before that — on a formal application to enact a kind of master plan for their acreage that waives typical agricultural zoning.
Backers of the idea recently brought in some of the state’s most influential real estate developers — Ivory Homes, the largest homebuilder, and Larry H. Miller Communities, owner of master-planned Daybreak in South Jordan — for clout in making their vision real, long after many of them are gone.
The county’s existing land use rules have had a corrosive effect in some ways on rural farm life. Requiring 40 acres per residential lot and homes fronted on the road, Crittenden said, creates the equivalent of cramped house tunnels along key arterials over time — while also making housing unaffordable.
“I tend to believe that leads to a really poor build-out pattern,” said Crittenden. “And the people at the county do, too. So there had to be a revision.”
Generations of farmers have also grown deeply weary, he and many others said, of watching their kids and grandkids have to move away.
The Cedar Crest Village overlay instead allows for carefully planned growth patterns driven by community needs and collaboration, according to code. It enables more density and mixed uses, and calls for cohesive design standards to cluster homes and commercial nodes and provide for gradual expansion while keeping a small-town feel.
The draft plan, if ultimately approved by the Summit County Council, would also preserve up to 60% of the land as open space, while bringing in possibly thousands of units of various types of much-needed affordable housing and restoring old-time amenities like the corner grocery store or gas station.
Residents have only needed to look south and west at decades of patchwork development, lost rural character and chronic land use clashes in Park City and across the Snyderville Basin to see other dark futures for the agrarian lifestyles they cherish.
“We would love to have it stay the way it is forever. But that’s not reality,” said Brown, who, with Crittenden, has been pivotal in fostering the village plan.
Rapidly developed population centers elsewhere in Summit County, he said, have become transient communities primarily for the wealthy — and that doesn’t match what he and immediate neighbors see as Hoytsville’s core values.
“We’re trying to restore and maintain the birth and death concept,” Brown said. “You can be born here, live here, die here and be buried here.”
Is it a smaller Daybreak?
The landowners’ desire to emphasize that master plan approach with open spaces, strategic placement of density and ready access to outdoor recreation is partly why they have brought on Larry H. Miller Communities. And Daybreak, the popular community in southwestern Salt Lake County, is offering a template.
“You take something like Daybreak, which is obviously a whole different deal,” Crittenden said, “but you take that conceptually and you just place it in this setting and you adapt it.”
As the village concept inches toward county review, Brown’s livestock and property on Browns Lane have sold in recent weeks, a visible and resonant domino to tumble for such a close-knit town, where many see one another at church every Sunday.
Rough estimates are that 80% of the 1,000 acres already have changed hands. Some wary neighbors who live outside the proposed village’s boundaries are looking on with trepidation.
Kent Pace, a longtimer along East Spring Canyon Road who grew up in Hoytsville, relishes that the town has no stoplight. In fact, he vows to move when the first one goes up.
“I don’t like this one bit,” he said of the village plans. “This has been a little farming community forever and what Ivory’s going to do here is going to completely change everything about it. It makes me sick to think about what it’s going to do.”
Robin Reed, a Hoytsville resident for 12 years, said Ivory Homes and Larry H. Miller Communities need to hear a plain message: “We don’t want a whole bunch of density. That is what is scaring residents here.”
Chris Gamvroulas, president of Ivory Development, urged them not to focus on density numbers to the extent they miss Hoytsville’s bigger picture. The overlay process has been in the works for nearly 15 years, he said, and was initiated out of the aspirations of the 20-plus property owners themselves and not developers.
“These landowners did their homework,” Gamvroulas said, “and we are really quite honored that they want to work with us.”
To concerned Hoytsville residents, he said, “these are your neighbors. Your kids go to school with their kids. We take very seriously the faith they have placed in us.”
The homebuilder also has embraced the village overlay concept, Gamvroulas said. “It provides a framework for a planning outcome that is holistic as opposed to a checkerboard.”
Meandering road ahead for the plan
The village idea still has a lot of fences to jump, but the overlay could get a formal hearing before the Eastern Summit County planning commission as early as mid-June. The commission’s recommendation would then be forwarded to the County Council for a final review.
Depending how this goes for Hoytsville, the county’s ordinance is written with the prospect of applying the overlay approach to other hamlets in the region: Echo, Marion, Peoa, Upton, Wanship and Woodland.
Planners with Larry H. Miller Communities are fleshing out a community structure plan for Hoytsville while doing outreach in small groups aimed at inviting more adjacent residents to opt in — or, in the alternative, incorporate their needs and input into the overlay’s contours.
The company, in conjunction with Ivory Homes, has set up a website — www.cedarcresthoytsville.com — to push out information on the overlay and draw public feedback.
Stephen James, executive vice president of planning and community design at Larry H. Miller Real Estate, who is leading the planning effort, said that creating a shared community vision that everyone understands is important.
That vision, he said, will center on growing the community incrementally, improving walkability, saving views of the mountains and farmlands, keeping some agricultural presence and preserving key elements of Hoytsville’s old architecture and what James called its “social ecosystem.”
“Our goal is to create a framework in which everyone can benefit,” James told the panel guiding the overlay in April, “and work together to make something great. That’s what community building is all about.”
Bill Wilde, chairman of the Eastern Summit County planning commission, has assured Hoytsville residents that their views remain integral to the process and how the overlay will emerge.
In that sense, Wilde said, “this is definitely not a done deal.”
Added Patrick Putt, the county’s community development director: “Ultimately, this is about place making, a cradle-to-grave community, with people having a choice to be there throughout their lifetimes.
“They don’t want a big subdivision,” Putt said. “They want to create a place.”
Neighbors are divided but respectful
Hoytsville residents have voted twice against formally incorporating as a township, and Pace said he and other residents who don’t like the plan feel the village overlay bypasses that public sentiment.
Adjacent residents whose lands aren’t already in the village area, meanwhile, are being gently encouraged to learn more or join. Some of them first took in details of the overlay at a December public hearing, followed by an open house at Judd Barn in Hoytsville in April.
Casey Stoner, a resident since 1975, echoed a common sentiment: Many people moved to Hoystville for its existing qualities, and they want to keep their community as it is.
“I don’t understand how you can come in and change the whole structure and character of an area so dramatically,” Stoner said in December. “It doesn’t seem like there are any trade-offs as far as saving some areas to allow this.”
Others voiced concern that new amenities drawn to Hoytsville in coming years might detract from Coalville’s Main Street.
So far, public discussions on the village have been mostly cordial and respectful, with only wisps of the sort of bitterness or rancor among neighbors that development issues can sometimes bring to small towns.
Few dispute the legacy owners have a right to pursue the overlay.
“These people and their families for generations have worked their guts out 24-7 and provided a lot to this community,” resident Dan Blonquist told one public gathering. “I believe that they have earned the right to do whatever they want to do with their property at this time, and we should support that.”
Said Pace: “I don’t hold anything against the people that are selling their ground. I’ve been friends with them my whole life.
“But,” he added, “it’s going to change everything.”
Others insist change is inevitable and that Hoytsville’s future is more a question of how that growth should be shaped.
“It’s coming this way,” said Crittenden, “and you can put your head in the sand and say, ‘Well, I don’t want it to happen.’ Or you can accept that it’s coming.”
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.