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Development bill disgusts officials

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

City Hall, like other local governments in Utah, is disgusted with a Statehouse bill that would largely dismantle a city’s ability to regulate development, a wide-ranging piece of legislation proposed by a Republican lawmaker.

Sen. Al Mansell from Midvale, a real-estate broker, wants the Legislature to approve his developer-friendly Senate Bill 170. The critics, including those in his own party, claim that the bill is unjust. They say that too much control would be removed from local governments, allowing developers to essentially dictate the future of a community.

The clauses in the bill would have ramifications at both City Hall and the County Courthouse as both the city and county governments are continuing to handle a post-Winter Olympics development spurt.

Some of the points in the legislation include:

( That governments cannot use aesthetics in a general plan, the document that outlines how a community grows, and that hillside development cannot be regulated by a general plan.

( That a government cannot designate zoning that materially diminishes "the reasonable investment-backed expectations of the property’s owner."

( That congestion and sprawl cannot be considered in a general plan.

( That staffers at a government must review an application within 45 days and a planning commission must review an application in 28 days.

( Making it a class B misdemeanor if a municipal officer violates a land-use ordinance.

( Allows a court to find that a government decision was arbitrary or capricious if it was based on what is described as "public clamor."

Some of the points counter what City Hall tries to regulate when it considers development applications. The reaction from the city government was expectedly harsh.

"What’s disconcerting is the first sentence of the bill and ends 80 pages later," said Mayor Dana Williams, who rose to political prominence as the head of development watchdog Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth, calling the legislation a "slap in the face" to municipalities.

He commented on the public-clamor clause, saying that he equates public clamor to testimony by regular people.

"That means you can’t base things on citizen input," Williams said.

On Thursday night, when the Park City Council discussed the legislation, Williams described it as, "the scariest bill I’ve ever seen." When asked whether the bill would pass, Park City Manager Tom Bakaly at the meeting said "perhaps."

Gary Hill, who monitors the Statehouse for City Hall, said in an interview that the legislation is "offensive to cities," describing that, for instance, the city would have difficulty regulating Old Town development if officials could not consider aesthetics when reviewing applications.

"It simply gives the benefit of the doubt in all cases to the property owner," Hill said.

Sen. Beverly Evans, a Republican from Altamont who represents western Summit County, opposes the legislation, saying that she is "appalled." She plans to cast a ‘Nay’ vote.

"I think it takes away a lot of a city’s zoning rights that we’ve always had," Evans said.

Evans would not handicap the bill’s chances. She said Mansell is a powerful senator but that, if local governments rally against the bill, the legislation could be defeated.

Some developers are supporting the legislation, including Anderson Development, which has interests in Silver Creek. Anderson wants to build a commercial and residential project but has encountered resistance from both neighbors and the Summit County government.

"It’s a fairness bill. It’s a bill that provides more fairness for landowners and developers," said Michael Hutchings, an attorney for Anderson, adding, "There’s nothing unfair about it."

He said some of the points in Mansell’s bill are based on previous legal decisions. Hutchings acknowledged that a coalition of builders and developers approached his law firm for suggestions regarding the legislation but said he had not spoken to Mansell about the bill.

Ricardo Velarde, a Snyderville Basin resident who opposes the Anderson development, alleged that the legislation represents "dirty politics, greedy politics."

"This bill was put together by just one developer and one law firm," Velarde said.

He is unhappy that the legislation would allow developers to "build in any nook and cranny in the state" Velarde is a member of development watchdog Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth but said he is not anti-development. He questions the public-clamor clause’s effects on constitutional free-speech rights.

"What about the right to speak at any of these meetings," he said. "They’re taking, what is it, the First Amendment, they’re taking that away."


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