Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More on Bluffdale Disconnection Ruling

As expected, both the DesNews and the Trib have longer stories today about Judge Quinn's ruling in the Bluffdale disconnection case. And also as expected, I find myself squarely in the middle on this one. That's because I find myself agreeing in part with both sides.

Judge Quinn wrote in his ruling as I noted in the previous blog entry, and also said, "Bluffdale City's zoning and planning process was characterized by unreasonable delays and changing standards. Bluffdale's current political environment precludes an orderly development process."

This is the kind of stuff that has gotten local governments into trouble with developers and landowners in a number of other instances, and has been, at least in part, responsible for things like SB170 in this year's legislative session (of course, it doesn't hurt that you have 22 legislators who are involved in the real estate and development industry, including the House Speaker and former Senate President).

But local governments must work harder to ensure the land development process is fairer and more timely if we are to avoid future full-scale assualts on local planning and zoning authority.

But another contributor to the confusion in the mix has been the rise of citizen groups. Not that they are all negative, but Judge Quinn did sum up some problems with this approach when he wrote that the debate over appropriate land use in the community has "escalated to the point that virtually any decision made by the city in favor of the development is subject to a referendum. ... The court is not suggesting that citizen involvement or the referendum process is anything but salutary. It is, however, an unwieldy mechanism for making zoning decisions."

On the flip side, Bluffdale Mayor Claudia Anderson says in the Trib that the judge "should never have held a trial because the dispute was a zoning decision. Just because the developers don't like how the city is planned to zone the land, they shouldn't be able to peddle their land to another community."

Amen. I agree with the Mayor on that one.

There's lots here to think about and discuss. I'd like to hear comments from readers, and I'm sure there will be more to discuss in the coming weeks and months. Bluffdale City has said they will appeal Judge Quinn's decision.


At 9:00 AM, Blogger James said...

I don't necessarily agree with the mayor's statement. In some cases I would agree, but it's fairly context dependant, isn't it? I mean, if the landowner can get access to utilities and other services and develop thier land outside a city's jurisdiction without burdening the city futher, what's the problem? You've got a clean break there, let the land go.

The potential problems arise when the land is "destined" to require city support or impact the city's own systems to the point that breaking away doesn't make sense.

I don't know all the details in this particular case, but that's my take.

One other point...in all this discussion on city planning, there was no mention made of any professional planner. Does this cause anyone else to consider the state of our profession? The closest either article (the Trib) made mention of the professional staff was the following quote by Judge Quinn:

"The city's administration has in effect become an agent with no authority."


At 9:29 AM, Blogger Wilf said...

Good points, Euclid. The reason I say I agree with Mayor Anderson is for the integrity of the community planning process. If a community adopts a general plan, and landowners on the edge of the community don't like the plan, is it good policy to allow them to simply deannex and develop in another jurisdiction that is more to their liking? The impacts on adjacent owners will still all be the same -- the property may be in a different community, but it's still in the same place spatially.

Maybe the solution is better "coordination" between communities of the types of growth and development they plan for -- then there may be no advantage for owners to shop for the best deal.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger ARCritic said...

While I can see where the developer is coming from, I agree with Wilf and the attorney, they are suing for disconnection not because they cannot develope their land but because they cannot develope their land the way they want.

One of the earlier stories indicated that the original plan that was proposed had an overall density of 2.6 units per acre, and that the final plan presented had an overall density of 2.6 acres per unit.

But the problem is that some of the areas were asking for densities that were significantly denser than anything currently in the city and the citizens, first through staff and elected officials opposed that, then when the developers filed suit to leave, the staff and elected officials tried to negotiate a compromise, unfortunately the compromise, which still included some fairly densely developed areas, and was still not acceptable to the citizens. They voiced their opposition to the compromise with a petition and when it looked like the staff and elected officials were going to compromise again against the wishes of the citizens the citizens approached the judge to stop it.

I think this is a very fundemental issue, does the community have the right to determine the character of itself? When the referendum happens in June we will see what Bluffdale really thinks. If it turns out like Sandy and they give it a thumbs up, then we can chalk it up to CAVE and NIMBY. But if they vote it down then it becomes the entire community vs the developer/land owner.

Again the developer still has the right to develope the land and if they bring in a development that is in line with the community standards then they should have no problem developing thier land.

As an aside, the article said that the city currently collects $1,700 in taxes on this 4000 acres. If thier rate is 1 mille then that would say the ground is being valued at about $425 per acre. Is that reasonable for undeveloped land?

At 3:11 PM, Blogger James said...

A couple of responses to what you said, Wilf...

>>>is it good policy to allow them to simply deannex and develop in another jurisdiction that is more to their liking?<<<

I don't think that's a simple yes or no answer. If it's a "clean" break, like I was talked about before, then I would ask why is that a problem?

>>>The impacts on adjacent owners will still all be the same -- the property may be in a different community, but it's still in the same place spatially.<<<

Yes they will. But what impacts? How does a 2.6 (or even more, for that matter) unit per acre development jeapardize the health, safety, and welfare of a lower density development? Do I smell a big fat NIMBY?

Frankly, 1-acre zoning is viewed as bad planning policy by many (for all of the common issues we talk about with sprawl)...you could almost spin this as a GOOD planning decision (unintentionally no less, which from the point of view of a non-interested party is almost humerous).

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