Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tha Amazing Morphing Referenda

What, indeed, can land use disputes morph into, given a variety of strategies that can be used by different sides? How about referenda, lawsuits, disconnections, and reluctant judges?

Bluffdale's ongoing dispute over how some 4,000 acres should be developed has all this and more. Stories today in the DesNews and Trib detail some of the key issues.

In short, when the owners of a couple of large parcels of land that had recently been annexed into Bluffdale didn't like the way the city was going to restrict development on their land (essentially, allowing mainly single-family homes on one-acre or larger lots -- at the behest of residents who want to keep the "rural character"), they threatened to deannex. The issue went to court, which is the only way a property can be deannexed from a city.

City officials worked on the concerns, eventually agreeing to adopt a new zoning designation that would allow more flexibility for large parcels of property. Residents objected, and collected enough signatures to put the new zone text (no property has yet been rezoned with the new designation) up to a referendum vote.

City officials continued to work with the owners and developers, apparently coming to an agreement as to how the property should be developed. The city council voted to approve the proposed settlement earlier this week. The parties have approached the judge and asked him to accept the plan as a settlement. However, the judge is reluctant. "I don't want to be rushed into making a decision I'm not comfortable with. Do I have the right to dictate the course of development?" He has asked the attorneys to provide him briefs on the subject.

In the meantime, the citizens have started a new referendum petition to overturn the council's approval of the settlement.

And the upcoming elections will likely turn on this issue. Current Mayor Wayne Mortimer is being challenged by an opponent to the city's approach, who received more votes in the primary than Mayor Mortimer did.

When people say to me, you can dream up all sorts of extreme situations, but they don't ever really happen. Could anyone have dreamed up something like this? Referenda on land use issues have made local elections much more a sporting event!


At 9:56 AM, Blogger ARCritic said...

I'm going to guess that the vote in favor of the settlement would be an administrative decision not subject to referral.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

I haven't heard anything on that yet, but I would bet the same way. Though it has aspects of legislative in it -- such as determining what the future zone of the property is to be. But then, even with a settlement agreement, that all would still have to be run through the normal public process before it could take effect.


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