Development watchdogs rally against legislation
Still fearing that the Utah Legislature will restrict people’s rights to challenge planning-related decisions, a group of watchdog organizations, including Citizens Allied for Responsible Growth, are pressing the lawmakers to keep those rights intact.
CARG, the best-known local development watchdog, is aligned with other organizations from the Salt Lake Valley in what is being called the Utah Alliance for Citizens’ Rights.
The groups banded as the Legislature continues considering bills that could impact land-use policies in Utah. Government officials in Park City and Summit County as well as activists and the local development community have followed the bills closely.
The most notable piece of legislation, Sen. Al Mansell’s Senate Bill 170, which would have limited a government’s ability to deny development applications, has been essentially abandoned but other bills are under consideration.
John Tuerff, a Trailside resident who is the president of CARG, said the group joined the others because there are still worries about other legislation.
"We’re concerned they’re going to dress this up a second time to make it more palatable" to legislators, Tuerff said about the possibility of Mansell’s bill being reworked.
If passed, Mansell’s original bill would have effectively ended the ability to challenge planning decisions through referendums. The new group is especially concerned that the referendum rights remain.
Tuerff said it should be difficult to put a decision to voters through a referendum but that the opportunity to do so should not be eliminated by the Legislature.
"That’s an option that should be open," he said.
Save Our Canyons, a group in the Salt Lake Valley, is also concerned and joined the group. Lisa Smith, the executive director of Save Our Canyons, called the right to hold referendums is "one of the tools left in the toolbox for citizens."
"I think that we should always have the power to question and put things back to the voters," Smith said.
City Hall has monitored the planning-related legislation and this week indicated that it is following a bill that may be introduced by Sen. Thomas Hatch, a Republican from Panguitch. The bill is titled ‘Referendum in Local Governments’ but its contents have not been released.
In a written legislative update provided to Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council on Thursday, staffers said the local government would "likely oppose" the Hatch bill and said that Hatch has indicated that he would "probably not run the bill this legislative session."
Mansell’s original Senate Bill 170 was quickly rebuked as being a pro-developer piece of legislation that would have greatly limited a government’s ability to regulate landowners. The Park City Council, unhappy with the bill, recently passed a resolution condemning the legislation.
A result of the bill would have been ending citizen referendums by allowing government staffers, not planning commissions, city councils or county commissions, to make most land-use decisions. Such administrative decisions cannot be challenged by a referendum.
Development watchdogs in Summit County rarely threaten to try to put a planning decision to a referendum but the practice is notable in other parts of the state.
In the 1990s, though, CARG, then led by Williams before he was voted into office, was preparing to challenge the City Council’s approval of the Flagstaff Mountain annexation, now known as Empire Pass. CARG and the developer, United Park City Mines, reached an accord, avoiding what would likely have been a bitter petition for a referendum.
Williams, an opponent of Mansell’s original legislation, said this week that it is exciting that the watchdogs organized in their opposition.
"The potential for having an effect is greater with a larger group," he said.
Williams said, when he led CARG, there was not such cooperation with the other organizations.
"We didn’t have a lot of other citizens groups like Save Our Canyons," Williams said.
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