‘Steamroller of Development’ (1995)

From the Editor’s Desk 

By Phil Hall

Bluff, Utah– Once Bluff was alive. There were cattle here, and people were rich. But that was long ago.

Bluff is dead, and well it knows it. The immense square stone houses, reeking of past wealth, stand now like ghosts, be only one or two to a block. All else is vacant. Sand is deep in the streets. The sun beats down. People move slowly, for there is no competition. Nobody new ever comes to Bluff.

The mail comes in three times a week, by truck. It had just arrived when we came into town. Indians were crowded around the post office, which is in a private home. After chatting around awhile we got in the car, and sat there rolling a cigaret before starting on. We noticed a man going across the road. He was raising a foot and putting it down once every fifteen minutes.

“Wonder what’s his hurry,” I said.

“Oh, the mail just got in a couple of hours ago,” said my friend, “and he’s rushing across to get it.”

–Ernie Pyle, July 27, 1939

More than fifty years have passed since Ernie Pyle wrote those words, and things have changed. We get mail six days a week now and we have our own post office and postmaster. The roads are paved. North to Blanding and West as far as you want to go. “Bluff is going to get run over like a steam roller,” a visitor said last summer, “if it doesn’t take some action now. People all over are looking for a little place like Bluff to flock to.” You don’t have to be a genius to see what has happened to Moab, Telluride, St. George, and other places not far from Bluff.

People went to those places who were looking to make money and they made it. The places changed, they became real crowded and expensive and many times the people who lived over there before were forced to go somewhere else because they could no longer afford to live there.

“There’s a lot of talk about growth paying its own way,” one Telluride oldtimer, Art Goodtimes, said, “but it doesn’t; it can’t. It’s like a cancer.”

In Bluff we are already seeing the adverse effects of growth even though we haven’t actually experienced it. Last month water rates and tap fees were increased. People on the town water system will have to pay more to water their tomatoes next year, and to flush their toilets. People using the laundry will have to pay more. Now it is property taxes (see accompanying story).

High Country News, a Paonia, Colorado-based paper devoted its September, 1994 issue to the questions of growth and growth containment. “By now the scenario is all too familiar: refugees from far-off, disintegrating cities, packing their dreaded California-scale equity, swarm into some previously unfashionable zip code in the rural West. Which leads to congestion and a land rush, prices and taxes leaping upward overnight, which leads to a psychology of turmoil and robbed peace. The newcomers have a hard time finding what they came for, the locals feel overwhelmed, and anybody lacking resources or predatory instinct is inexorably forced out. More often later than sooner, people begin to think, hey, maybe we should have a plan…”

What Bluff does not have is a plan.

“Paralysis by analysis,” one local sage said. “Look before you leap, but he who hesitates is lost.” Bluff doesn’t in know if it has the legal clout to pass and zoning ordinances, for

The Simpson family owns some land surrounding the d cemetary and want to build up there. They have asked that water lines be run up to their property. It is within their rights to make such a request. After all, water hookups have been provided to others, and free, too, except for the meters.

Now, suddenly the Water Committee has discovered that it no longer has the resources to continue providing meter hookups for free. What it also discovered is that it doesn’t have a policy, which could easily lead to a little civil war here.

Gene Stevenson: “Before the Bluff Water Committee is asked to put in water lines to the area north of Bluff (including the area around cemetery hill), the Bluff Service District needs to make some decisions regarding what it wants to do up there with regard to planning and zoning. And if they are going to do planning for the area north of Bluff, they might as well do the whole district.”

That seems to be the problem. You’ve heard of “Kyle’s Nadabar?” Well, we have Bluff’s “Nadaplan.” Inertia is a wonderful thing…if you’re a rock. But the world around us is changing, and with dizzying speed.

The writer, William Studebaker, was here for a few days last fall, and he had this observation. “In my native Idaho,” he said, “towns that got into the planning process early are doing pretty well. Towns that did nothing are overwhelmed. They didn’t know what hit them.”

Some citizens are, with the blessings of the Service Board, taking action. They are meeting at the Recapture Lodge for the purpose of discussing the future of Bluff and what should be done about it.

Theresa Breznau has long been a strong advocate for planning. She has obtained a set of planning videos and books from the University of Utah. “We need a unified vision of Bluff,” Theresa said recently. “We don’t want to do this piecemeal. In order to do this we need to build consensus. Even if we have to go door to door. We need to create win-win situations for people.”

The citizens of Bluff, or at least some of them, have taken steps to find out what it is Bluff needs to do to avoid the steamroller of development rolling over most of the West. There seems to be a sense of urgency and a sense of commitment. The time is now and now is the time.

–This post originally appeared in the February 1995 issue of the Canyon Echo

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