Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Foxes in the Henhouse?

Here I am, behind the times again. What with Presidents' Day and frequent writing on legislative updates, I haven't found the time to blog on notable planning-related topics, and they are stacking up. So here I go to try and make a dent in the backlog.

On Sunday (see how far behind I am?) there was an interesting juxtapositioning of stories in the Trib. First, there was a story on legislative conflicts of interest. The main example used in the story -- the influence of realtors and developers. Given all that has happened this year with SB170 and other related bills, that is no surprise to many. The Trib claims that those involved in the land development business make up the largest bloc of "interest" in the legislature -- "This year, 22 legislators build, manage, sell or maintain homes, apartments and commercial buildings. The industry can claim some of the most prominent leaders on Capitol Hill, including House Speaker Greg Curtis, former Senate President Al Mansell and Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert."

Then, flipping over to the editorial section, we find an opinion piece by Mike Ostermiller, CEO of the Weber/North Davis Association of Realtors and main lobbyist on SB170 for the Property Rights Coalition, a small group of key developers concerned about local land use regulation. The title of Ostermiller's piece is "Land use bills seek fairness and accountability." Ostermiller writes, "Cities should be able to make decisions that affect owned property only if there is a very good reason to compromise private property rights. The landowners community believes the current lower standard has allowed cities to make and defend land use decisions for almost any reason at all."

Hmmm. Pretty broad statements about the overall picture, I'd say.

Fortunately, there is also a piece in that day's editorial section from Alan Matheson, executive director of Envision Utah. Alan does a good job of pointing out the need for a balanced approach to land use regulation and development for the benefit of all.

As an interesting side note, yesterday SB268, the bill making changes to the property ombudsman office, was amended on the Senate floor with things that local government reps had been party to and were generally in support of. However, one change caught most of us off guard. The new advisory board which will help to oversee the activities of the ombudsman was changed, taking the nominating role for one of the board members from Utah farm organizations and giving it to the Utah Property Rights Coalition. I don't know that there is any one particular group in the state that represents developers in general, but I know this one ain't it. The Coalition is made up of a fairly small group of developers who have a certain ax to grind, and giving them power to nominate one of the ombudsman advisory board members seems rather unbalanced. Just my opinion.

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