Heber City, Utah voted in 2005 for a cap on the size of retail stores — but city officials recently voted to give them a looser one — loose enough that it’s really no cap at all. On June 8, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that the City Council in Heber City had voted unanimously to set a size limitation of 60,000 s.f on stores that will keep retailers from building huge outlets in the city. During the two-hour public hearing in 2005, a majority of speakers urged the council not to jeopardize the small-town character of Heber City. “We need to have a cap [on retail floor space] to preserve our lifestyle,” one resident told the Salt Lake Tribune. “As soon as we bring in big-box, we’ll lose our tourist dollars. Who will want to come here if we’re just like Salt Lake?” But that wasn’t the end of the story. Heber Mayor Dave Phillips was concerned that shoppers were taking their money out of Heber to go to the big box stores, so in February, 2007, the City Council amended the ordinance to lift the limit to 150,000 s.f. — big enough to allow a Wal-Mart supercenter. As a result of that reversal of direction by the Mayor, a local group called “Keep Heber Valley First” has begun collecting the 1,160 signatures needed to put the issue of a size cap on the city’s ballot next November. The group needs to collect its signatures by April 1st. “In my opinion, (big boxes) are a predator. Heber is noted for their hometown atmosphere, and that is going to die,” one Heber resident told the Associated Press. “It’s not a petition to keep Wal-Mart out,” one organizer said. “It’s a petition to find out what the community wants.” But City Councilor Shari Lazenby said, “We’ve already survived the big boxes in Orem and Park City, where a lot of people shop. This way we’ll bring them back here.” Many residents in this small community of 9,000 would prefer to keep its small town atmosphere and local merchants, and let those who want to big stores find them in other communities. Developers are looking to shut down a trailer park and build a Wal-Mart and possibly a Lowe’s. The owner of the park has to the media he would sell his land “to the first person who has cash in hand.” That has the residents of the trailer park on edge. “My 9-year-old third-grader is coming home and telling me I have 90 days to get out of here. That broke my heart because that’s not what a third-grader should be worried about,” said one mother in the trailer park, who has lived in the park for 10 years with her husband and two children.
A cap of 150,000 s.f. is a joke. It’s no cap at all, since companies like Wal-Mart and Target, Home Depot and Lowe’s, all have prototypes smaller than 150,000 s.f. The Mayor has made it perfectly clear that by lifting the cap, he is letting big box stores into the city. Residents now have to take the matter into their own hands, but if they are able to gather enough names to put the size cap on the ballot, Wal-Mart is likely to try to affect the outcome by spending a huge sum of corporate cash on the election. Anti-sprawl activists will then find out if Heber City is for sale to the highest bidder. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by “Heber City.”