WASHINGTON CITY – The question of whether or not commercial development should be allowed in Washington Fields has long been a bone of contention between a portion of the area’s residents and city officials. To help gauge where Washington Fields residents currently stand on the idea of incoming commercial development, Washington City officials held an open house at Riverside Elementary Thursday night where the public could meet and speak with members of the Washington City Planning Commission.
Thursday night’s open house was the second of two scheduled for January. The first was held Jan. 8. Drew Ellerman, the city’s community development director, estimated between 350-400 people attended the first meeting.
Attendees at Thursdays’ meeting were greeted by members of the planning commission and other city officials in the elementary school’s auditorium, where small clusters of easels held up maps of Washington Fields. The maps themselves showed where commercial zoning and accompanying medium to medium-high population density areas were situated in that part of the city.
Members of the planning commission stood by each cluster of maps and answered questions. They also offered attendees a sticker they could place on the map to show where they would like commercial development to go.
Rick Henrie, a recent appointee to the planning commission, estimated that about 60-65 percent of the people he talked to were actually in support of some kind of commercial development – albeit after they talked to the commissioners.
“The city is expanding,” Henrie said.
With that expansion comes an expanded cost to civic services the city provides, he said. Those services are largely paid for through sales tax gleaned from the city’s commercial base.
“If we don’t want something (commercial) in, we lose the tax base,” he said.
Henrie added that a supermarket is already in the works for Washington City’s side of the Mall Drive Bridge. It will be the second supermarket in the area, as a Lin’s Fresh Market is slated to be built on the St. George side of the Virgin River.
On the other side of the argument are those who have found a rural haven in Washington Fields and want to keep it that way.
“When Washington Fields is gone, it’s gone,” resident Don Watlit said.
Watlit said he and his wife, Cindy Watlit, moved to the area two years ago after spending just as much time looking for a place to move to from California.
Though seeing commercial development along the river by the Mall Drive Bridge wasn’t much of an issue for Don Watlit, he said he’s not in favor of seeing it elsewhere in the Fields.
“It will change the community … I’d rather see homes and open space,” he said.
The types of businesses that could go into the area include small supermarkets, convenience stores, banks, offices and similar businesses that are found in small commercial centers.
“I don’t see any big box stores going in there,” Planning Commissioner Rex Papa said.
The commercial development itself will be surrounded, in part, by medium to medium-high-density residential zoning that will provide “feathering” around the commercial zoning and low-density residential area, Planning Commissioner Lori Shepherd said.
Areas of Washington Fields zoned for commercial development exist along parts of Washington Fields Road and by the Southern Parkway.
As the evening progressed, a small number of stickers were placed on spots of commercial zoning near the Southern Parkway, the area of Washington Fields Road and 3560 South, and further south in the vicinity of Washington Fields Road and Warner Valley Road.
Still, not everyone is convinced commercial development in Washington Fields is in the interests of the citizens.
Archibald Ford, a Washington Fields resident, said he believes the city isn’t being honest with the way it’s presenting the question to the public. He said city officials were primarily asking where the people think commercial developments should go and not whether they should be allowed in the first place.
He also contended that the city was more interested in bolstering its tax revenues than benefiting the citizenry.
“Property value will go down while the tax revenue goes up,” he said. “They are using the residents as pawns over a tax revenue war with St. George.”
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