After marathon meetings, Snyderville Basin planning commissioner advocates for development halt
6-month moratorium would clear the way to update land-use plans
Normally, the only people concerned about marathon planning meetings are those who are involved with a specific project and the commissioners and staffers in attendance.
But Snyderville Basin planning commissioners have recently voiced concern that their workload might be affecting the quality of decisions they make when the meetings stretch deep into the evening.
The March 9 meeting went until nearly midnight, for instance, while the meeting before that lasted until 10:30 p.m.
Earlier this month, Commissioner Thomas Cooke suggested the county stop processing development applications for especially weighty projects, those that require rezoning land or amending the Snyderville Basin General Plan.
The commission is conducting a broad and intricate review of the Basin’s land-planning documents, and that work is expected to continue into the near future.
“We’re getting asked to process rezones and general plan amendments against a general plan that is currently in flux,” Cooke said near the end of the commission’s March 9 meeting around 11:45 p.m. “…It wouldn’t be crazy to entertain a moratorium on processing any applications that require, that are asking for rezones or general plan amendments until we actually amend the general plan.”
The chair of the commission, Ryan Dickey, indicated he supported the idea, and Cooke said he hoped the Summit County Council would consider it. The council met the day after Cooke’s comments and its next scheduled meeting is March 24.
The Planning Commission has been starting its twice-monthly meetings at 4:30 p.m. by reviewing chapters of the Snyderville Basin General Plan and development code before regular meeting business starts at 6 p.m.
In addition to the permit and plat amendment applications that make up normal business, the commission has in the past year worked through several time- and labor-intensive projects involving multiple public hearings, including the Tech Center and Highland Flats proposals.
The code work is important, but can be dry, with discussions focusing on language and word choice. Work sessions have recently targeted key issues for the county, including affordable housing, sustainability and open space and trails.
It’s important to get the code amendments right. Together, the general plan and development code guide future growth in the Snyderville Basin and can be the basis for legal rulings when the county’s land-use decisions are challenged in court.
The general plan advises officials’ land-use decisions and includes broader goals and an overall mission statement, while the development code includes specifics about how to implement the general plan: what’s allowed in which zones, for example, and height limits for buildings.
Cooke suggested that the county should wait to evaluate labor-intensive applications until the commission has recommended changes to the general plan and development code and the County Council has amended the documents.
His fellow commissioners suggested the workload and packed meeting schedules were threatening the quality of their work. On March 9, the commission was on the verge of adjoining for the night after hearing public comment on a proposal, only to reverse its decision and rendering a ruling when it heard that the applicant had a financial deadline to hit. That public hearing featured a commenter from Connecticut who phoned in at 1 a.m. EST.
Commissioners indicated they didn’t want to formulate a series of legally binding restrictions on the applicant’s proposal when the clock was nearing midnight.
“I mean, at 9:30, the decision making goes way, way down,” said Commissioner John Kucera. He said the commission should try to avoid meeting until midnight “at all costs” while acknowledging the burden that might put on landowner applicants looking to develop their land, some of whom he said have been waiting for months.
The commission’s chair indicated he supported Cooke’s proposition.
“Regardless whether an application amends the general plan, or a rezone or not, just the volume of applications coming at us, that I think are preventing us from being able to make headway on this task of the amendments we want to make,” he said. “We’re giving, I think, short shrift to these discussions that we’re doing at the start of the meeting, trying to wrap them up to get to big public hearings, big applications. I think (the moratorium) is an interesting idea and one that should be considered.”
State code allows counties to temporarily halt construction and subdivision approvals for up to six months. Oakley and Coalville in recent years have chosen to enact moratoriums to update their land-use plans.
Last week, the Summit County Council adopted a temporary zoning ordinance prohibiting the construction of accessory buildings in the Snyderville Basin for six months.
The reasoning for that moratorium, officials explained, is to allow the Planning Commission to finish its work recommending changes to the code governing accessory buildings.
The Basin development code does not limit the size or number of accessory buildings that can be built on any lot or parcel of land. In December, a Trailside homeowner sued the county for permission to build a 10,000-square-foot barn on his property overlooking Trailside Park.
A public hearing for those code changes is scheduled at the Planning Commission March 23 and tentatively scheduled at the County Council the next week.
Summit County Development Director Pat Putt said there are arguments for and against imposing a moratorium. Some residents would likely support halting any type of growth, he said, while others, including developers and landowners, might hold vested property rights and could be significantly impacted if the processing of development applications stopped for six months.
“Those big policy discussions need to be discussed openly in front of the commission and the council and a decision be made,” he said. “In the meantime, we just need to stay focused on continuing to try to deliver the best set of recommendations that we can and that’s what we’re doing. We’re just going to keep our eye on the pitch that’s being thrown at us right now.”
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