West Valley City Council creates new zone to spur sustainable housing

The West Valley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to create a new city tool to encourage developers to build sustainable homes.

Under the first-of-its-kind-in-Utah “Residential Sustainability Zone,” interested developers would agree to meet a number of highly specific requirements aimed at ensuring homes conserve water, are energy efficient and generate their own power — such as including Energy Star-rated appliances to decrease energy use and providing an electric car charger in each garage.

It’s part of an effort, City Councilwoman Karen Lang told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month, to “fill that niche for people who really are Earth-wise."

Approval of the new city zone came after a debate among council members and developer Daniel Gutierrez over the mandate to include a Tesla solar roof or a solar power generation system that meets or exceeds its features.

Gutierrez, who has expressed support in general for the residential sustainability concept, argued that requirement would add an extra expense for developers that would then be passed on to homebuyers and said he hoped to see the council opt for solar panels instead.

“I get a little concerned that we’re going to be sustainable but we’re not going to make it affordable to the public,” he said.

Council members ultimately decided to keep that requirement, which they said would be more efficient and aesthetically pleasing than solar panels, but indicated a willingness to make changes in the future if needed.

As better technology, cleaner gas and stricter federal emission standards decrease the amount of pollution in Utah’s air from vehicles, pollution generated by Utah homes and small businesses is expected to overtake all other pollution sources in the winter, according to previous estimates from the Utah Division of Air Quality.

That means energy-efficient homes will become increasingly important to fight gunky air in a state that’s capital city was recently named as the nation’s seventh worst among large metro areas.

But because West Valley City is largely built out — with about 10% of its land remaining for development and most of that zoned for industrial and commercial build-out — it’s unlikely the Sustainability Zone would become a major component of the city’s landscape.

Steve Pastorik, the city’s planning director, told The Salt Lake Tribune in a previous interview that there is “some vacant ground that’s remaining for residential and so there still could be subdivisions that take advantage of this.”

During a public hearing on the Sustainability Zone earlier this month, Ken Milne, a representative with Arcadia Properties, praised the council for what he called a “progressive” move forward and said his company hoped to be one of the first developers to build under the new zone.

“We’d be extremely supportive of this,” he said.

Resident Chris Bell also expressed support for the measure at the council’s Feb. 11 meeting, commending the city’s leadership on sustainability and for making West Valley City “an example for the rest of the state of what we can do to provide for our future.”