By Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune, November 8, 2011
Words carved into the sandstone signs welcoming those driving into Bluff indicate the Utah town was “established” in the year 650, a not-so-subtle nod to the Native Americans who built a civilization in the region’s canyons and mesas 12 centuries before Mormon pioneers settled and named Bluff.
Now, Bluff will be Utah’s newest town. By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, residents voted Tuesday in favor of incorporating their community at the doorstep of the new Bears Ears National Monument.
The incorporation drive got off the ground last year at the same time American Indian tribes built momentum for their successful campaign to convince then-President Barack Obama to designate the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears monument against the wishes of San Juan County leaders.
Incorporation leaders characterized municipal government as the best way to guide the town’s destiny in the face of tourism pressures, while critics were concerned about the costs of running a town and providing essential services currently provided by the county. The preliminary vote tally—89 for, 32 against—indicates residents are willing to shoulder additional costs if necessary.
Many see change coming, driven by growing interest in the region’s rich archaeology and stunning undeveloped landscapes that are expected to draw increasing numbers of visitors, according to Brant Murray, chairman of the committee that campaigned in favor of incorporation.
“We need to get in front of this dynamic of change,” said Murray, whose accent gives away his North Carolina roots. “It is such a special place, we want to maintain this desert charm that we have.” The retired auto parts store operator moved Bluff three years ago after visiting the region for the previous 30 years to explore its mysteries on foot.
Last year’s controversial monument designation guarantees Bluff will remain a magnet for tourists regardless of whether President Donald Trump redraws or rescinds the monument. Bluff has less than one-tenth the population as its neighbor Blanding, but visitors tend to find Bluff a more inviting place to stay, dine and shop than Blanding, whose residents re-affirmed a 50-year ban on alcohol sales on Tuesday.
President Trump is expected to travel to San Juan County next month to announce what will likely be a severe reduction to the Bears Ears monument, a move that would immediately be tied up in the courts.
With the addition of Bluff, Utah has 247 cities and towns. Incorporation won’t be official until voters seat a mayor and four town council members. A town treasurer and clerk will also be hired.
While Bluff has only 265 residents, the new town limits cover 38 square miles stretching along the north side of the San Juan River for several miles on either side of the town settled in 1880 by the famous Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition. That is vastly more territory than is covered by Blanding and Monticello.
Bluff was the subject of a student planning project, titled Listening to Bluff, led by University of Utah professor Stephen Goldsmith last year. Murray said he expects town leaders to glean insights from that project to help chart the town’s future.
UPDATE 11/07/2017: Bluff Utah votes 89 to 32 in favor of Incorporation. Bonneville Research did the Feasibility Study.
Aug 16, 2017 - by Zak Podmore, San Juan Record
The Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office hosted a public meeting at the Bluff Community Center on August 8 where Bluff residents and property owners debated incorporating as an official town.
The meeting of more than 75 people began with a presentation on the financial feasibility of incorporation from Bob Springmeyer of Bonneville Research in Salt Lake City.
In June, the Lt. Governor commissioned Bonneville Research to conduct a study of Bluff’s local economy and issue a recommendation on whether or not it could be incorporated into a self-sustaining town.
Springmeyer said the report aimed at answering a basic question: “Will there likely be sufficient revenues if a town is formed to maintain current levels of service?”
Springmeyer told the audience that according to the findings of his 37-page report, the answer to that question is “yes”. Incorporation is feasible.
Springmeyer went on to explain how Bonneville Research calculated the cost of current services in the proposed town area, which it estimates to be $129,000 per year.
Services considered in the report include police, fire, road maintenance, administrative costs, parks, and other expenses.
Tax revenues – including property taxes, local option sales tax, road funds, and federal funds – were estimated to be $129,663 per year, though Springmeyer noted that some tax information is confidential and that the true number is likely higher.
A possible resort tax on tourists, which could be implemented by a future town council, was not considered in the report.
Both the feasibility study and the public presentation of its findings are required under Utah state law.
After Springmeyer concluded his presentation, an audience member requested County Commissioners Phil Lyman and Rebecca Benally, both of whom were in attendance, to comment on the proposed incorporation.
Commissioner Lyman said, “I love Bluff,” and noted that Bluff has “some very intelligent” residents with “strong passions” and varying perspectives on incorporation.
“Bluff should do what Bluff is destined to do,” said Lyman.
Commissioner Benally agreed, adding, “I support what the town of Bluff wants to do.”
“If you’re after local control,” she added, “incorporation is probably the best way to do it.”
Linda Sosa, co-chair of the incorporation committee, said the incorporation process had been underway for a year. “We set this up to be grassroots and inclusive. Fifty people joined committees in June, 2016. The community involvement we’ve had has made this possible.”
Brant Murray, the other co-chair, said the future town council will have to make many decisions but that incorporation is the first step to helping the town direct its own future.
“The idea is to crawl, then to walk, and then to prosper,” Murray said.
Incorporation sponsors Luanne Hook, Vaughn Hadenfeldt, and Ann Leppanen all spoke in favor of incorporation.
Josh Ewing was the last sponsor to comment. “If we like the way things are, and we don’t want things to change, we need to be proactive and grab hold of our destiny to the extent that we can,” he said.
Meeting organizers opened the floor to audience members who wished to speak in favor of incorporation. Several residents noted that incorporating would grant more local control over planning and zoning, as well as give the town a larger voice in county discussions.
When organizers asked to hear comments against incorporation, nobody approached the microphone, but as more people spoke, reservations emerged.
Several business owners and residents expressed concern over increased taxes and possible town debt. Longtime resident Marx Powell said, “You talk about self-control, and I think that’s great – if we can afford it.”
Sponsors noted that any decision to change current tax rates would be made by an elected town council, not the incorporation committee.
San Juan County Administrator Kelly Pehrson said the Bluff’s EMT and volunteer fire department could work out a deal with the county to respond to emergencies beyond town limits in exchange for county services.
Police services would likely be contracted from the Sheriff at an hourly rate if the town were to incorporate.
Some residents implored the community to consider those living nearby on the Navajo Nation before making any decisions.
“Let’s be the best border town we can be,” said local educator Malyssa Egge.
Bluff, which is currently a two-square-mile service area, would expand to a 38-square-mile town under the current proposal.
Town limits would stretch from Comb Ridge to Recapture Canyon. The San Juan River forms most of the proposed southern boundary, while the northern boundary would be roughly three miles north of town on the Bluff Bench.
Several people questioned whether the area is too big. Sponsors note that the proposed town limits would account for less than one half of one percent of San Juan County.
By making the town area the proposed size, sponsors said, the future town council would have more of a say over potential developments on the outskirts of Bluff.
On November 7, Bluff will vote on the incorporation proposal. Permanent residents who live within the proposed town limits and who are registered to vote will be eligible to participate.
Luanne Hook, owner of Recapture Lodge and a sponsor of incorporation, said at the meeting, “Bluff has been a town since the late 1800s, and I think it’s time to make this ‘town’ official.”
If the proposal passes, elections for mayor and the four-member town council will be held in June, 2018.
San Juan Record, July 25, 2017
by Zak Podmore
The push to make Bluff an incorporated town cleared another hurdle last week when Utah’s Lieutenant Governor’s Office released a comprehensive feasibility study analyzing Bluff’s local economy.
The 37-page report, which was compiled by Bonneville Research in Salt Lake City, concluded that Bluff is eligible for incorporation and that such a move would be economically feasible without increasing any taxes.
“An analysis of the fiscal, demographic and economic issues suggests that [Bluff] could become a viable and sustainable town,” the report stated.
Bluff is currently managed as an unincorporated service area within the county.
San Juan County’s first permanent settlement has been incorporated in the past.
The study projects that sales and property tax revenue generated within the proposed town limits will exceed municipal costs over the next five years if services are maintained at current levels.
Brant Murray, co-chair of the incorporation committee, said, “We’ve worked on incorporation for a year, and it’s great to finally see the results of the study. We’re very excited, especially with the study saying no that tax increase is necessary.”
Last February, more than half of the registered voters in Bluff, and property owners representing nearly half of the assessed value of property in the proposed town limits, signed a petition to initiate the feasibility study.
Murray believes an incorporated Bluff would have more decision making power at the local and county levels, including the ability to create town planning and zoning codes.
“Right now we don’t have an official voice as a town,” said Murray. “We need to have a seat at the table for discussions in San Juan County.”
On August 8, the Lt. Governor’s Office will host a public hearing in at the Bluff Community Center at 7 p.m. The meeting will addresss the report, the election, and the incorporation process.
The incorporation committee says the meeting “will give residents the chance to ask questions about the feasibility study and express their opinions about the prospect of incorporating as an official town.”
Then on November 7, Bluff’s 265 residents will have the opportunity to vote on the incorporation proposal. Permanent residents who live within the proposed town limits and who are registered to vote will be eligible to participate.
If the proposal passes, town council elections will be held in June, 2018.
(Bonneville Research Assisted On This Project)
Posted 9:39 pm, January 29, 2017, by Todd Tanner
MONA, Utah -- On the west side of Mona, Utah, there are two surprisingly large industries.
One is the Current Creek Power Plant owned by Rocky Mountain Power and the other is a 28-acre greenhouse that utilizes waste CO2 from the power plant's stack to provide CO2 fertilization to tomato crops.
Houweling's Tomatoes is based in Canada, but runs the greenhouse operation. Inside, massive tomato plants are grown with a hydroponic system, getting nutrients from water rather than soil.
A single vine can live for years, grow dozens of feet long, and produce hundreds of tomatoes.
A packing and shipping facility at the same site ensures quick delivery of tomatoes to multiple grocery stores along the Wasatch Front.
Houweling's Chief Marketing Officer David Bell says the Mona operation employs about 100 people in the winter, and 150 in the summer when longer daylight hours fuel faster growth of the tomatoes. He anticipates the company will double the size of the Utah facility in 2018.
Houweling's will also be recruiting new employees at a job fair held in Spanish Fork on Tuesday, January 31st from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. It will take place at the Spanish Fork Employment Center at 1185 N. Canyon Creek Parkway.
Tuesday , April 19, 2016 - 6:00 AM
A vacant, blighted home on 25th Street near Monroe Boulevard in Ogden. Monday, April 18, 2016.
Image by: (MITCH SHAW/Standard-Examiner)
OGDEN — An independent consultant has found that a nine-block section of inner-city Ogden has a major blight problem and should qualify for the city’s urban renewal program.
In October, Ogden city hired business management consultant Bonneville Research to examine blight conditions in an east-central area of the city extending from 23rd to 26th streets between Madison and Jackson avenues. The city commissioned the study to determine whether the area, which is being called the “Oak Den” study area, had enough decay to be designated as an urban renewal area.
In a letter sent to the city on March 14, Bonneville Research indicated the nine-block Oak Den area has a significant blight problem.
The letter, which is signed by Bonneville Research President Jonathan Springmeyer, says the present condition of the area “impairs the sound growth of the municipality,” “constitutes an economic liability” and is “detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare.”
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said the study’s findings are staggering. Of the 413 properties evaluated in the area, 328, or 79 percent of them, were dilapidated. More than 80 percent of the properties failed to meet building, safety, health or fire code requirements and 88 percent had unsanitary or unsafe conditions.
The study found that there are just over 84 acres in the area, but 23 percent of that acreage is vacant or abandoned. The study also found that criminal activity is 216 percent higher than comparable areas that don’t have as much blight.
Caldwell said the east-central area of Ogden has long been a focal point of the city. The mayor said his administration wants to encourage owner-occupancy in the area, saying home ownership not only creates individual investments in the city, but it also allows those stuck in inter-generational poverty to build equity.
Ogden city plans to hold a public hearing on the matter during a city Redevelopment Agency meeting at 6 p.m. May 24 at the Ogden Municipal Building, 2549 Washington Blvd. At the hearing, findings from the study will be presented and residents and property owners in the study area will be allowed to make public comment.
The city sent notification letters to property owners and other stakeholders on March 22.
The city’s redevelopment agency board, made up of members of the city council, will likely vote whether or not to establish the area as an urban renewal area, or URA, on the same night.
According to city council documents, a URA is the most rigorous of the three types of redevelopment programs the city performs. Unlike economic or community development areas, a URA allows for eminent domain under certain circumstances.
But before the program can be established, state code requires that the city complete a parcel-by-parcel blight study of the area. The code also requires certain criteria to be met — like 50 percent of the private property and 66 percent of total private acreage must be blighted — before a URA can be set up.
State law also establishes parameters on what constitutes blight — greenfield or agricultural parcels don’t qualify, but urban properties do.
Once a URA is established, it allows the city to apply for federal grants to complete housing projects and to offer tax incentives to the developers that build there.
Caldwell said the Oak Den Bungalow subdivision, which was built on a blighted patch of land in the project area in 2014, is an example of how neighborhoods can be transformed. The subdivision was funded by Utah Housing Corp., Community Development Block Grant funds and Ogden City capital improvement project funds.
Ogden City owns and developed the subdivision. The project filled a years-vacant, mid-block area between Jackson and Quincy avenues and 23rd and 24th streets with new homes.
“That area has been completely revitalized,” he said. “It’s an example of what we can do.”
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at email@example.com or at 801-625-4233. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook.