Monday, January 23, 2006

The Developers' Planning Act

The big, anticipated "anti-planning" bill in the state legislature is out, and boy is it a doozy. It is SB170 - Local Government Land Use and Impact Fee Revisions, sponsored by Sen. Mansell.

It is pretty remarkable how bald-faced and blatant it is in skewing the entire planning and local land use regulation process towards the developer. For example, the bill would "prohibit counties and municipalities from giving property a zoning designation that materially diminishes the reasonable investment-backed expectations of the owner... ." Such a provision would make it virtually impossible to down-zone or change to a less-lucrative zone that what may be in place currently. Along those same lines, the bill would "limit zone changes that make the intensity of permitted uses substantially less than that of property in the same vicinity." What does "vicinity" mean? Next door? A mile away? Again, virtually assures that there would be almost no down-zoning that could be done.

A provision of the bill with far-reaching implications would be the requirement "that all actions under land use statutes, other than specified legislative body enactments, shall be considered to be administrative in nature." This would include any rezone that encompasses less than 25% of the total land area of the municipality. When is the last time you heard of a city zoning more than 25% of its land area in one action? Right -- this would mean virtually all rezones. As an administrative act, the governing body would be obligated to grant the rezone request if it complied with the requirements set out in your plans and regulations -- no discretion on the part of the legislative body allowed.

There are so many provisions that it is difficult to enumerate them all here in this one blog entry. Changes in what are considered to be non-conforming uses, changes in the standards for granting variances, changes in the appeal process, a requirement that land use applications must be approved within 28 days of submittal or else they are automatically deemed approved.

More important, I think, is something that Gary Uresk articulated in a meeting earlier today. Gary said that the process by which this bill was created is so clearly the antithesis of what was done with SB60 last year. Actually, for the last two years, local government officials worked with legislators, developers, real estate interests, planners, and many others to craft some significant changes to the Land Use Development and Management Act, including a number which were things the developers wanted to see in the code. The process was collaborative, open, and one which everyone felt pretty good about in the end (though there were certainly plenty of frustrations along the way). Part of the discussion was that these changes would take some time to work their way into the psyche of local governments statewide, and in the meantime there should be no more significant changes to allow things to sink in and start working (with one notable exception -- the subdivisions part of the LUDMA had some issues that were put off, to be addressed by a similar process in the coming year).

Contrast that with how SB170 has been developed -- a small segment of the development community in collaboration with a law firm which represents them to draft the legislation, with virtually no input from local government, citizens, or many of the other interests that were part of the SB60 process. A sneak preview of the bill was given a couple of months ago to a few municipal representatives, then pulled back in for "secret" modifications, and now revealed to us in all its glory. What a sham of a process. This is not collaborative law-making at its best, it is representation of one interest with powerful legislative connections.

Post your comments, please, there is much to be done in a short time. There will be more blogs on the details coming up.


At 8:54 AM, Blogger Nick said...

SB 170 is very troublesome to me. It seems to be a complete blow up of land use regulations within the state. To begin with, how do you determine one property owners rights over adjacent property owners rights? Why don't they just propose to do away with all zoning regulations (see item 14 on Craig Calls summary)? I felt like I was punched in the stomach after reading the part regarding intensity of use and vicinity. What if the proposed use is not allowed in the zoning district, but a different zoning district nearby allows it? Again, might as well get rid of zoning. The part about nonconforming uses is troublesome. Basically, what it is stating is that if some illegal land use is not corrected within x number of years, it becomes a legal non conforming use. Does this eliminate any sort of amortization of non conforming uses? Also, the part about allowing economic hardships for variances is ridiculous. Can't anyone argue that an economic hardship exists? I am suprised that there isn't something in there that says that it is the municipalities responsibilty to prove that hardships exist.

The part that concerns me the most is the part about making a class b misdemeanor for an agent of the city to violate any of the provisions. What about if a developer violates any of the provisions? Is that in there? Is it wise to make these things criminal in nature? Is there ever criminal intent when a planner erroneously interprets a statute that on it's own is full of vagueness? Hopefully this thing will be shot down or at least dramatically altered. It clearly takes away a community's right of self determination.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Shawn said...

I am trying to understand what the stated need for this bill is. Is Anderson Development not making enough money? Does Park City need to be stripped of its character? Are certain SLC suburbs not ugly enough?


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