Section 2

Establish a Minimum Size of 40 Acres for Homes Built in Agricultural Zones to Discourage the Conversion of Farming Operations into Low-Density Residential Lots

Who can implement this: County and city officials, communities, governmental organizations, and agricultural producers

A particular concern raised by the spread of hobby farms (parcels of land that are zoned for agriculture but are primarily residential, referring specifically to those that are not agriculturally productive) is the proliferation of residential development in primarily agricultural areas. It takes only 20 five-acre residential lots to eliminate 100 acres of agricultural operations. This spread of very low-density residential development in agricultural areas can quickly consume large areas of productive farmland and increase urban-growth pressures. Moreover, many who purchase these five-acre lots may actually prefer to have a smaller lot with municipal services, but the current zoning practices that dictate the five-acre minimum lot size limit their options.

Establishing 40 acres as the minimum lot size for homebuilding on agricultural lands (unless specific requirements are met) will promote productive agricultural operations and make it more difficult to subdivide agricultural lands into nonproductive hobby farms that have no agricultural output or benefit. This would also preserve protections for agricultural producers across the county.

Farming operations are generally more effective and easier to protect and preserve when they take place on larger scales. Once land around smaller agricultural lots begins to be developed, it becomes easier for urban and suburban developments to expand, threatening to consume productive farmlands. Land currently belonging to hobby farms could be better used as part of larger, more productive farm. However, small farms are crucial to the agricultural industry, especially for beginning farmers looking to gain experience before moving to larger-scale farming efforts. The county needs to carefully evaluate the impacts of its agriculture zoning practices in order to better balance the needs of small-scale farmers with the needs of large-scale operations; for instance, agricultural land should be allowed to be subdivided into smaller farms but prevented from being turned into low-density residential subdivisions.


  • City councils and the Utah County Commission should enact ordinances ensuring that houses built on agricultural land have a minimum lot size of 40 acres to encourage and protect agricultural production. Houses built on smaller lots should meet specific requirements that discourage low density development and the creation of nonproductive hobby farms.
  • City councils and the Utah County Commission should explore ways to incentivize the consolidation of small-scale hobby farms into larger farms or otherwise ensure that they are being used for agriculture production.
  • State and county organizations should encourage farmers to apply to have their lands designated as Agriculture Protection Area to protect their farms and allow for small-scale farming operations to continue.
  • Cities and communities should develop new and expand existing systems and programs that help beginning farmers on small farms move to larger farms when they become more experienced.
  • Nonprofit organizations should educate non-agricultural landowners on the problems associated with buying five-acre lots of agricultural land, particularly when they do not use the land for any kind of farming or ranching.
  • City and county planners should modify zoning codes to help ensure that smaller farm lots are used primarily for farming. This step is especially important for niche and beginning farmers who may not need or are unable to purchase 40 acres of farmland initially.


1000 Friends of Oregon conducted an initiative called “The New Face of Farming” that focused on identifying and finding solutions to common farming challenges across Oregon. Many of those issues are also applicable to Utah County.[1] The initiative explored problems including lot sizing, zoning, and farm stewardship.[2] The process brought together farmers, who began to make progress on solving some of the complicated problems facing farming in the United States. 

Encourage Developers to Cluster Growth and Promote Denser Development, Leaving Larger Portions of Farmland Intact When Farms Are Developed

Who can implement this: County and city officials, agricultural producers, and developers

Urbanization and the preservation of agricultural land do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, smart development and growth can be synonymous with the preservation of open spaces and agricultural lands loved by Utah County residents. Cluster development is the concentration of small-scale development in a smaller portion of a designated tract of land. Cluster development preserves contiguous tracts of farmland or open space through easement, covenant, or deed restriction.

While the gross density on a parcel of land remains the same, overall lot sizes are reduced in order to set aside acreage for conservation. Instead of developing 40 one-acre lots on 40 acres of land, for example, a developer may instead conserve 20 acres for agricultural use and develop 40 half-acre lots on the remaining 20 acres of land. Permitting flexible lot sizes and adjusting minimum lot size requirements makes this type of clustering possible. Noncontiguous clustering is another strategy, in which the development from two or more parcels of land is clustered onto one lot, preserving the remaining parcels as farmland or open space.

Farm owners looking to sell some of their land can look into cluster development as a way to cash in on some of the value of their land while still preserving much of the functioning farmland. If clustered growth is developed correctly on a large parcel, farming operations can continue despite added development.


  • Individual city councils and the Utah County Commission should incentivize (or even require) cluster development when accepting subdivision plats. If necessary, cities should also provide density bonuses to encourage developers to adopt a cluster model.[1]
  • City lawmakers and planners should explore the benefits of cluster development in their municipalities. Preserving open space and encouraging compact development through annexation and zoning allows cities to preserve their natural resources while retaining the tax revenues and other social and economic benefits of urban growth.
  • Developers should create compact communities and preserve agricultural lands and open space wherever possible. The benefits of clustering growth are self-evident for developers; houses near large amounts of open space are almost always worth more than houses that are not.[2]


Farmington City, Utah, has a specific cluster development ordinance. The ordinance focuses on conserving land, preserving contiguous tracts of land, reducing erosion, and preserving vegetation of existing slopes and natural areas.[3]

In an effort to reduce the loss of open spaces and agricultural lands, New Jersey passed a law in 2013 that gives municipalities authority to promote cluster development. The law allows municipalities to offer benefits to landowners and developers who promote noncontiguous clustering. This law, as well as others, helps reduce construction costs of infrastructure and encourage the more efficient use of taxpayer money.[4]

Develop Compact Infrastructure to Encourage Land Development Where Services Already Exist Rather than in Outlying Areas

Who can implement this: State, county, and city officials; advocacy organizations; and developers

Creating and maintaining new infrastructure (roads, water lines, pipes, power lines, etc.) can be costly to cities and developers when constructing new housing developments, especially when those developments are located away from existing road, sewage, and power systems.[1] The corridors that have to be built to connect existing infrastructure to new developments inevitably results in additional development occurring along the entirety of the corridor, often consuming open space and agricultural lands. Maintaining and expanding existing infrastructure in urban areas is often less expensive than funding costly expansions in outside areas. As a result, building developments becomes less expensive for developers and could make Utah’s housing stock significantly more affordable.[2]

Expanding infrastructure into undeveloped areas encourages additional development, especially given the pressures of population growth. This additional development often fragments contiguous areas of farmland and increases the cost and complexity of agricultural infrastructure by enclosing canals, making maintaining easements more difficult, among other negative impacts. If communities want agricultural lands to remain in agriculture, lawmakers and planners must carefully manage the expansion of urban infrastructure—including roads, water pipes, sewer lines, and power lines—into these areas, while still allowing sufficient expansion to meet market demand. One strategy for providing adequate agricultural water without encouraging residential or commercial development is to build infrastructure for secondary water. Secondary water meets agricultural irrigation needs but it is not potable, meaning developers would need to build more costly infrastructure to convert the land into a residential area.


  • Developers and cities should create and adopt infrastructure plans with policies and standards that accommodate both rural and urban needs. These plans may include measures, for example, that limit the amount of new infrastructure or keep development away from canals used for agricultural irrigation.
  • Developers and cities should protect existing agricultural infrastructure assets and take agricultural impacts into account when planning infrastructure. Infrastructure for water and machinery access is crucial to farming operations and should be available without being unduly encumbered by residential and commercial development.
  • Individual city councils and the Utah County Commission should establish regulations and ordinances that encourage development to occur near existing infrastructure rather than in places that disrupt farming operations. When urban development is needed, areas in and near cities should be developed first. In order to minimize leapfrog development where farms and urban development mix, infrastructure plans should be clear and balance the need to expand services like water, sewer, and roads with protecting landowners’ rights. Infrastructure investment should also be properly staged to help landowners understand when services might be extended to their lands and that it may take time for urban amenities to be built in some areas if at all.
  • Lawmakers and planners should connect land use decisions to both local and regional long range plans to better coordinate all infrastructural improvements. Better coordinating the visions and goals of stakeholders and lawmakers at all levels will help ensure infrastructure is developed efficiently and reduce unnecessary costs and construction.


Placer County, California, used Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs) to model different plans for infrastructure construction showing multiple different scenarios in the city’s future. Their models showed that the cost of sewer services was much lower with compact infrastructure in comparison to other development, helping them decide to develop more compactly.[3] Utah County could adopt a similar model in which areas developed farther away from existing infrastructure would pay a higher price for sewer services than adjacent lands.

Encourage the Development of Vacant or Underused Parcels Within Existing Urban Areas

Who can implement this: City officials, communities, governmental organizations, and developers

Many parcels within urban areas in Utah County are vacant or underutilized. By developing these parcels before creating new developments at the fringe of urban areas, fewer agricultural lands will be threatened by encroaching commercial and business developments. Redeveloping urban centers and already inhabited areas is crucial to maintaining the quality of life Utahns have come to appreciate in their communities. Urban redevelopment preserves agricultural lands and reduces blight in urban areas, creating more appealing communities and street life. Redevelopment is also a major step toward making cities more walkable and accessible.


Redevelopment agencies in Orem and Provo (as well as any other urban area in Utah County) can provide tax incentives and loan programs to promote the reuse of vacant land parcels. Local governments can provide other incentives for the redevelopment of underused parcels.

  • City councils should consider creating redevelopment agencies in places where they do not yet exist. Redevelopment agencies should be encouraged and expanded to promote the redevelopment of parcels in urban areas across Utah County.
  • Redevelopment agencies should identify and flag underutilized parcels for redevelopment. These parcels can be flagged manually through public outreach or through computer-generated geospatial technologies.
  • Government agencies and private developers should work together to develop a land parcel according to the needs of the community. This will help reduce the amount of development needed at the edge of urbanized areas, where agricultural lands and other greenspace may be threatened by placing urbanization and development above the community’s desires.


Some of Utah’s largest cities have redevelopment agencies specifically focused on reducing blight and encouraging infill development within their municipalities. The Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency and the Provo Redevelopment Agencies are two of the state’s largest redevelopment organizations working to provide economic incentives to encourage infill development and administer programs, grants, and partnerships from city, state, and federal sources (like the Department of Housing and Urban Development).[1] [2]

Envision Utah’s Urban Planning Tools for Quality Growth includes a chapter on land reuse and infill development. See Chapter 4: Reuse and Infill within that document.[3]


Update City Plans and Zoning Practices to Encourage Agriculture, Changing Regulations to Foster Farming and Better Manage Water

Who can implement this: State, county, and city officials; and communities

Cities can help preserve local agriculture by updating their city plans and zoning practices to address and encourage agriculture and water management. Because agriculture is a major component of Utah County’s economy and heritage, specifically addressing agriculture and water will likely result in added protections and a greater emphasis on agriculture in city plans. Cities can provide significant assistance to farming operations, especially if, in their city plans, they make an effort to include farmers’ interests, preservation strategies, and other resources. Long range regional and city plans can promote the identification of prime farmlands that should be protected for future generations.


City plans and zoning practices change at the discretion of the planning staff, planning commission, and city governments. In each city, these organizations should decide to support agriculture within their boundaries so that this strategy becomes a more multifaceted one that will need to be implemented by each city.

  • Utah County and its individual cities should consider addressing agriculture in their general plans. If cities are encouraged to think about agriculture, preservation plans are less likely fall by the wayside.
  • City councils and planners should encourage agriculture through their general and land use plans. City councils and planners should note the widespread desire to protect agriculture and begin to focus on better understanding water management.[1] When creating or revising plans, planners should be guided by a number of considerations:[2]
  1. Development trends, plans, or needs in each community that may impact agricultural development and preservation in the community (including population growth, economic growth, housing stock, business development, environmental preservation, and more)
  2. Agricultural uses of land, including key agriculture specialties that are unique to farmers in each community
  3. Key agricultural resources, infrastructure, and facilities
  4. Anticipated changes to agricultural production, processing, supply, and distribution
  5. Goals for agricultural development in the community
  6. Means of increasing housing density in non-agricultural areas
  7. Key land issues related to farmland preservation and specific plans to address those issues
  • City councils and planners should update their municipality’s zoning practices, encouraging more compact development and increasing support for agricultural land uses. These practices preserve water and land throughout the county and can reduce the amount of farmlands consumed by new residential development.


Santaquin, Utah, has become a regional leader in agricultural preservation through careful planning and consideration of agriculture’s importance in the area. The city created a zoning designation specifically for agriculture in order to allow for specific protections that do not exist under commercial, residential, or industrial zoning classifications.[3] [4] Private landowners, for example, aren’t required to connect to the city’s water system if they are on a private system, an exemption that looks beyond traditional zoning and development practices and reduces the cost of infrastructure construction. Santaquin also works with local farmers to promote agritourism and other commercial agriculture enterprises through official city marketing and annual agricultural celebrations.

Many Midwestern states have robust plans for farmland and agricultural preservation; aspects of these plans can be adopted by Utah County and its cities. Wisconsin, for example, developed a statewide guide for counties to develop their own plans for farmland preservation, allowing counties to save farmland by expediting crucial preservation processes.[5] Iowa County, Wisconsin, developed a farmland preservation plan that implements the strategies found in the statewide guide, creating concrete, real world examples of some of the guide’s concepts.[6]

Accommodate More Growth on Less Land

Who can implement this: County and city officials, and developers

One of the best ways to preserve agriculture is to develop compactly, which reduces the consumption of undeveloped lands (often agricultural or open spaces) and irrigation water for residential, commercial, and office construction. Market trends indicate that there is a growing demand for compact development across the Wasatch Front; more dense development is currently in demand because it is more affordable and increases travel convenience.[1] It also reduces the cost of infrastructure and services in residential areas while preserving space for farm and ranchlands. Low-density residential land does not pay for itself, requiring $1.11 in services for every dollar paid in taxes.

Studies and surveys show that house lot sizes in Utah County have decreased from their peak sizes in the 1960s[2] Cities can continue this trend by zoning smaller lots for new residential developments. As a result, farms will be able to continue operating on large areas of land while still allowing the county to accommodate population and community growth.

To foster more compact growth patterns, development within current and existing urban areas needs to be encouraged. By doing so, the county is able to channel most development away from key agricultural open lands.


  • Cities should avoid annexing land without carefully considering the potential loss of agricultural production.
  • City planners should evaluate zoning practices and establish incentives that support denser forms of development and redevelopment in urban areas.
  • City councils and the Utah County Commission should develop ordinances that incentivize more compact development. Incentivizing compact development will better motivate developers to create more dense communities and will make communities more affordable for residents.
  • Developers should follow market trends by developing compact, walkable communities in urban areas, preserving open space and farmland. More dense development results in less land being consumed by development.


Envision Utah’s Quality Growth Strategy helped reduce the amount of land being developed by educating community members, developers, and lawmakers about the benefits of compact development. In the 1990s, development trends along the Wasatch Front were on track to consume 695 square miles of land by 2020.[3] Instead, compact growth was encouraged and now development will likely consume around 494 square miles by 2020, saving 200 square miles of undeveloped land, including agricultural lands and open spaces.

Daybreak, Utah, is the state’s largest master-planned community.[4] The development site for the city is on about 4,000 acres, and the community focuses on building compact, walkable development next to parks and open spaces. Daybreak was a result of carefully considered planning and coordination between developers and lawmakers and is an example of a community that consumes less land and that offers the benefits of being more walkable and livable than traditional development. The community’s popularity has established South Jordan as one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.[5]

Ensure That Urban Growth Occurs Where Appropriate and Establish Buffers Between Homes and Agricultural Lands

Who can implement this: State, county, and city officials

Utah County’s crucial agricultural lands are being threatened by constantly-expanding urban growth. To help preserve agricultural land and greenspace, local lawmakers should encourage growth in places that are better suited for development.

Utah County already limits the expansion of urban areas by prohibiting large-scale development in unincorporated areas. The lakes and mountains of the Wasatch Front also serve as natural boundaries to growth in the Salt Lake City and Provo–Orem metropolitan regions. However, population growth and the subsequent need for development is placing pressure on many of Utah County’s natural resources and agricultural lands. Additional protections of these lands may be necessary to mitigate the impacts associated with population growth.

Agricultural buffers provide extra space for typical farming practices to continue even when development occurs near farm operations. Open space buffers are intended to shield farms from nuisance complaints of residents and protect the public’s health and safety from noise, dust, odor, pesticide use, and the normal activities that are part of farming and ranching.

When adopted through the land use review process, buffers are a legally required separation between residences, schools, and other land uses that may potentially be incompatible with nearby agricultural practices.[1] Agricultural buffers can help farms and residences coexist. Having legally mandated buffers to insulate farms reduces complaints and allows farms to operate more freely without having to worry about the impacts of day-to-day business on neighbors.


  • Individual cities must decide where they want most of their urban development to occur and on what densities of development best meet the needs of their communities. Agricultural buffers would likely be implemented in a general land use plan or through zoning laws in different jurisdictions across Utah County.
  • City councils and planners should review and revise annexation laws and other regulations that influence where future urban development may occur to ensure that they adhere to community needs and desired outcomes for future growth.
  • The Utah County Commission should encourage cities to create buffers between their residential/commercial areas and agriculture areas to help dissuade future development and prevent nuisance complaints.


The Cache Valley South Corridor Development Plan aims to guide the development of private and public land across the corridor that connects the Cache Valley cities of Wellsville, Nibley, and Logan.[2] The development plan incorporates open space buffers to preserve agricultural land and to maintain the rural feel of the region. The plan’s buffers are in line with the desires of the community and will help direct the inevitable development coming to the region in a way that preserves Cache Valley’s strong agricultural heritage.

Establish a Tax-Base Sharing Program to Encourage Preservation of Agricultural Lands

Who can implement this: State, county, and city lawmakers

Sales tax is one of the largest sources of revenue for cities. A significant portion of money from sales tax goes directly to the city in which the taxed products are sold. As a result, cities often compete with each other to attract retailers (department stores, furniture stores, auto dealerships, etc.). Cities sometimes over-zone commercial areas in hopes of a corresponding demand for retail development, as expressed in the saying, “If you zone it, they will come.”

Agriculture, on the other hand, is considered to be one of the lowest tax generators for a city. Because cities are often led to believe that commercial development is more profitable than keeping land in agriculture, they can be tempted to develop as many businesses as they can, often at the expense of farmland. But cities should also understand that farms require very few services and therefore have reduced infrastructure costs, whereas commercial and residential developments cost more money to maintain. Agriculture also contributes more in revenue than it requires in expenditures.

Studies on the cost of community services done by the University of New Hampshire concluded that residential developments contribute less in revenue than they require in government expenditures. Farmland requires $0.37 in public services for each dollar paid in taxes, while residential land requires $1.11 in services for every dollar paid in taxes.[1] Cities need to understand the value of agricultural lands in relation to their low public services costs; though agricultural lands do not generate major tax revenue, they are less expensive to maintain and provide other services that are often overlooked by purely economic analyses.

One way to ensure that agricultural lands are better protected from tax revenue-based development would be to switch from a local tax revenue structure to a tax-base sharing program. This change to the revenue structure would allow cities to share regional commercial taxes based on population rather than on the amount of commercial development in a city. As a result, cities would be better able to protect their supply of local food and alleviate the pressure to build retail or residential development on agricultural lands.

A tax-base sharing program will help cities cooperate with one another and act in a way that benefits the entire region, instead of fixating on just the interests of their own communities. Cities would be less likely to over-allocate commercial development and unnecessarily destroy farmland because they would be confident that they would receive some portion of the region’s taxes, regardless of what businesses they have. Changing the tax revenue structure will also allow the market to work more effectively, ensuring that the amount of retail in the region matches the actual demand more closely.


  • State and city lawmakers on a statewide scale should work together to change tax policies so that a sharing-based system would be legally viable in their jurisdictions.
  • Cities should cooperate together and be willing to share their commercial tax revenues. Cities that have a large amount of retail would have to be willing to share tax revenues with cities that have less retail, and other cities would likely need to help pay the regional infrastructure costs associated with retail in another city.
    • Tax-base sharing could be explored as an option in Utah County, though it would be a significant change from the status quo and may require unique adjustments to the county and overall state.
    • What constitutes a “region” would first need to be carefully defined, and then regions would need to work closely together to allocate resources and tax revenues.


The Twin Cities region (Minneapolis–Saint Paul) has an innovative tax-base sharing program, known as the Fiscal Disparities Program. The large size of the seven-county region and the amount of commercial-industrial taxes shared by its communities make the program unique.[2]

With the support of the Metropolitan Council, the Minnesota legislature created the metro-area program in 1971. The council decided that tax-base sharing supported their goals of:

  • Promoting orderly and efficient growth.
  • Improving equity.
  • Strengthening economic competitiveness.
  •  Encouraging land uses that protect the environment and increase livability.

Tax-base sharing spreads the fiscal benefits of commercial-industrial growth throughout a region, regardless of where properties exist in the metro area. It also reduces differences in property tax wealth between communities with a lot of commercial-industrial businesses and those with little. These wealth differences reflect how commercial-industrial development tends to concentrate near regional infrastructure and services, such as highways, wastewater treatment, and transit.

Started in 1975, the Minnesota legislature created a tax-base sharing program to:

  • Share resources produced by the growth of the metro area.
  • Make orderly development more likely by reducing competition for tax base.
  • Work within the existing system of local governments and local decision making.
  • Give incentives for all to work for growth of the seven-county metro area as a whole.
  • Help communities in different stages of development and redevelopment.
  • Encourage environmental protection.

How tax-base sharing works

Since 1971, local taxing jurisdictions have contributed 40% of growth in commercial, industrial, and public utility property taxes to an area-wide shared pool of tax base. Local property tax administrators distribute the funds in the shared pool to communities based on their population and the market value of all property per person compared to the average market value per person for the metro area. Communities with below-average property tax value per person receive a somewhat larger share of the area-wide tax base.