Photo by Marc Ensign

Marc K. Ensign has been active in community and business affairs for many years, and lives in Paradise.

This sign appeared over this past weekend next to a multi-unit housing development in Hyrum. Although there is never justification for vandalism, its message seems to capture the sentiment of many valley residents who have found themselves in a wake of expansion they don’t like or understand.

Cache Valley is facing challenges related to growth that is unprecedented in our history. From less than adequate housing and personal income to aging roads and infrastructure, demands on our natural resources, water, and land, and the needs of an increasingly diverse population, the county-wide growth plan developed 13 years ago has quickly become obsolete.

At the time, it seemed adequate, visionary, and comprehensive. Taking ideas from the drawing board to the real world, however, is charged with setbacks, re-directs, and “play-by-play audibles”. No one could have anticipated the crush of development that would envelop us so quickly.

In response to the posted sign in Hyrum, Facebook blew up with comments like “Cache Valley is no longer rural!” or “Pretty soon all the farmland will be gone!” Someone blamed farmers for selling their land to developers. Another replied, “Don’t blame the farmers, blame those who issue the permits!” The developer posted, defending his right to make a living.

Instead of arguing and complaining, let’s do something productive. Cache Valley has not outgrown its residents, and we are not helpless as some may feel. What can we do? What can YOU do?

For the past 18 months, Cache County has been working on a revised and updated growth plan in answer to the valley’s changing demographics. “Imagine Cache” was chartered to represent county stakeholder’s (residents, landowners, and businesses) desires for steering valley growth and development over the next 20 years. It’s a “community audible” where you and I can weigh in.

It’s a blueprint that will be used by county and city planners and zoners, the Cache Metro Planning Organization, the Urban and Rural Areas Assessment and Cost of Services Plan, as well as the Regional Collaboration Plan.

I recently spoke with Lauren Ryan, the director of Imagine Cache. A key provision of the plan is gathering public input related to growth, development, agriculture, housing, and economic expansion. The period for this feedback began on September 3rd and is scheduled to end on September 19th. So far, only 230 surveys have been submitted, and only a handful of comments have been received. In a valley of now over 130,000 residents, less than .002 of the population has responded. The guy from India calling about your car’s extended warranty gets better results.

Surely the problem is not apathy but awareness. Had you heard of Imagine Cache? Did you know it was asking for public comment? Tell your friends, family, and neighbors. Use social media as a bull horn. Let’s get the word out before the window closes.

Short of public direction, our valley’s future will be left to politicians, consultants, and developers to decide. Is that what we want? Helpfully, Lauren agreed to extend the deadline past the 19th until the end of September in the hope of gathering more responses. Instead of vandalism and laments, invest a few minutes of your time in our collective future and respond to Imagine Cache.

Here is the link:  imaginecache.com/get-involved

Take the survey (about 5 minutes) where you’ll answer 11 questions. There are five places where you can leave a comment (make sure you hit ‘submit’ at the end to have your responses recorded).  You can also email a comment to Lauren directly at: lauren.ryan@cachecounty.org. In addition, there is a land-use map on the website where you can give feedback and input. See the plan for your community, and see if you like it.

As you ponder your input and wonder where to start, consider these observations:

– Growth should be proactively steered, never reactively managed. The arbiter of growth should always be the infrastructure necessary to support it. We simply cannot grow faster than we have strength. Residents in Hyde Park called for a moratorium on building permits this summer as their wells dried up. Hyrum’s power grid has been overwhelmed of late, trying to keep pace with new construction.

– For many who have settled here, maintaining our rural heritage and lifestyle is paramount. There are effective ways to limit the land grab as cities annex county land for development, and compete for limited resources. Mitigating ordinances require developers to replace each acre lost to construction with an off-setting acre of open space. The voluntary down-zoning of large land parcels, moving back from a high-density zone, ripe for development, to a lower density one can be negotiated with property owners.

– Conservation Easements are a win-win for everyone. They protect the land from development and preserve it for specific uses. A good example is the recent placement of 47 acres along the Logan River into an easement for public walking and biking trails.

– Any growth plan should protect our individual community identities…they are what make Cache Valley unique.

– Housing development should look to the future to consider the forecast economic stability of the region. With higher-paying jobs, we can maintain our neighbors at a better housing standard than lower-income, multi-family developments. Are current plans in response to historically low Cache Valley wages? They could be short-sighted, leaving behind a future overbuild of high-density construction. A jobs plan should first direct any growth plan.

– Is high-density housing better served in urban locations, where commercial, government and personal services are more readably available to these residents? Are you opposed to urban development in rural areas?

– Wherever possible, redevelopment should be considered before expansion. The conservation of land is a good alternative to expansion and makes us better stewards.

Talking with Gina Worthen, the Chair of the Cache County Council, I wondered if the lack-luster response to Imagine Cache’s request for public input had anything to do with residents feeling their voice doesn’t really matter.  Gina assured me that the county is anxious for public input, and is committed to draw the plan’s conclusions from it. In fact, Gina suggested that since the council will have to approve the final plan, comments could be sent to her, along with the other Council member’s emails. Here is their link: cachecounty.org/countycouncil/

I don’t need to tell you that Cache Valley is a special place, and worth our every effort to preserve. In the near future, the public’s response to Imagine Cache will be published and shared. We will be hard-pressed to complain about the outcome if we didn’t contribute to it. It’s time to put down the torches and pitchforks and pick up the pen.

Marc K. Ensign



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