Heber City, Utah voted in 2005 for a cap on the size of retail stores — but city officials in 2007 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 “Put Heber Valley First” began collecting the 1,160 signatures needed to put the issue of a size cap on the city’s ballot in November. Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether they want a Wal-Mart off their Main Street. The question on the ballot asks if a new zone should be accepted allowing retail outlets larger than 60,000 square feet into the Wasatch County community. The Boyer Company development firm wants to build a 70-acre mixed-use development that, if voters approve, would include Wal-Mart as the anchor tenant. The Heber development would be a mix of single-family housing, and townhomes — all with a Wal-Mart for a view — that would be a buffer between the residents to the west and the commercial development. Wal-Mart opponents say that Heber City stands to losed its charm and local flavor if the superstore project is approved. According to the Deseret Morning News, the developer has been suggesting that Heber is losing $100 million a year in retail sales by Heber residents shopping in other towns. They argue that Wal-Mart will end this “leakage” of sales. “That’s what attracted us to Heber,” a spokesman for the developer told the Morning News. “You have this tremendous residential growth, but no retailers have moved into that marketplace and retail sales are just flat,” But the citizen’s group, Put Heber Valley First, say they don’t want to live in a place that is just like everywhere else. The group in April succeeded in collecting enough petition signatures for a voter referendum. “We’re not a city in trouble,” Matt Heimburger, spokesman for Put Heber Valley First, told the newspaper. “We’re a city in demand, we’re a city with options and choices, so why we’d rush to do the same old thing and change the rural nature of the place? I can’t figure it out. We’re doing this because we care about our community and want to see one of the most unique places in the West stay that way. It’s the wrong move for the town. It’s being pitched as though it’s inevitable, it has to happen, every town lets Wal-Mart in — but the truth is, not every town goes this direction. All the promises Boyer makes about increased taxes (revenues,) all the promises that are true positives can be achieved without big box.”
For years I have called the revenue figures used by developers “Wal-Math.” It’s a form of voodoo economics that shows only the revenues for towns — but not the expense. The jobs lost are never factored into the equation. But, as Sprawl-Busters warned on March 11, 2007, Put Heber Valley First will have to overcome Wal-Mart’s spending if it has any chance of winning on November 6th. The group has raised only $2,500 so far to battle the developer. Boyer is the same developer who faced a referendum against another Wal-Mart project in Sandy, Utah in 2005. Wal-Mart greatly outspent the citizens in Sandy, who still managed to get 47% of the vote — hardly a small ‘special interest’ group. This developer, Boyer, keeps building large projects near residentially zoned land, and these sites that are just not appropriate because they provide no real buffer for the surrounding properties. Wal-Mart relies on the outpouring of a great deal of money during the election to win the final tally. The corporation will prove whether or not Heber City is for sale to the highest bidder.