Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who Started the Fire?

Another story in today's DesNews (this issue is getting a pretty good dose of media coverage) about the potential consequences of SB170.

The story quotes Chris Kyler, a lobbyist for the Utah Association of Realtors, saying the bill is simply intended to force cities to abide by their statutes rather than allowing planners and other staff members to arbitrarily deny or change development applications.

"There have been some people within the ranks of the League of Cities and Towns who have taken SB170, and they have misapplied it, and they have thrown gasoline on a fire which didn't need to be there. They're saying the bill does more than it actually does. In fact, they're claiming it does 10 times more things than it actually does."

I know Chris, and have respected and appreciated work we have done together in the past on other planning-related issues, most notably on the extensive rewrite of LUDMA last year with Sen. Greg Bell's SB60. But on this one, I think Chris is barking up the wrong tree.

I think Chris is engaging in a bit of damage control, or trying to lower expectations. It's interesting that he accuses those of us opposing SB170 of exaggeration and throwing "gasoline on a fire which didn't need to be there." They are the ones who dropped it on us without any real warning or opportunity to react before it went public. What kind of reaction would they expect? "Oh, we know you didn't really mean it?"

All one really has to do is read what the bill says. "Each change in the designation of zoning district shall conform as reasonably as practicable to the request of the property owner whose property is affected by the change (Line 661)." "A parcel of property may not be given a zoning designation that would materially diminish the reasonable investment-backed expectations of the property's owner... . If a change in the zoning designation applicable to a parcel of property makes the intensity of the permitted use of that property substantially different than the intensity of permitted uses on property in the same vicinity, the change may not be approved unless the differences in intensity of permitted uses is attributable to differences in topography or other natural features, or there are countervailing, compelling public interests in favor of the change in zoning designation(lines 614-625)." That last is a very high legal standard.

In lines 590-597, on what the community general plan may provide for, "aesthetics" and "the reduction of the waste of physical, financial, or human resources that result from either excessive congestion or excessive scattering of population" is striken.

And then, of course, line 1054, "Each officer (elected officials, planning commissioners) or employee (planners) of a municipality who violates a provision of the municipality's land use ordinances or this chapter is guilty of a class B misdemeanor."

There are a number of other examples in the bill I could cite. But the League is the one pouring gasoline on the flames? How? By just citing what is in the very public version of the bill?

Now in all fairness to Chris and his associates, they have met with local government representatives and stated that there are portions of the bill they did not really intend to be passed, that they were included to "get the attention" of those local governments that are violating the code as it exists. And I will agree, there are certain jurisdictions out there that are either violating the code or abusing the process. But why not talk with us about this first, and let us help get the problems solved? I don't think we can be blamed for making this a much more "public" reaction, there are many individuals out there who can read for themselves perfectly well, and have, and are reacting.

I don't know where the discussions that have started on this are going to wind up. But at least we are talking, and hopefully we can come to some resolutions.

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