Sunday, May 21, 2006

Zoning for Roads?

A recent situation in the town of Saratoga Springs points out some interesting ramifications about land use control. It seems that a property owner hoping to develop his land asked the city council for a rezone. However, UDOT had recently informed the city of its intent to eventually acquire land in the area for the future Mountain View transportation corridor. The city council, aware of this interest, eventually voted not to approve the rezone.

"'Utah has statewide transportation needs that will cost about $23 billion, and we are about $16.5 billion short of that amount,' said Geof Dupaix, a UDOT spokesman. 'Right now, there is no funding to build the Mountain View Corridor.'"

"'I'd love it if UDOT wanted to purchase my land,' said (property owner) Franc, 'but they haven't offered. I'm being penalized because UDOT may want my property eventually.'"

Some interesting points raised here. The general rule for planners is that we can stave off approval of land development for maybe up to a year, but eventually will need to approve an appropriate application unless the land can be bought. In this case, however, the landowner is asking for a rezone, which is a legislative action and assumes to use by right for the higher density development the applicant is asking for. Is it appropriate to not grant such a rezone request, primarily for the purpose of stopping a greater level of development in the path of a know future transportation route? It would be one thing if the land were already zoned for development, but not in this case.

It seems to me that I remember some court cases along these lines, saying something like that if the land around the subject property were being approved for development, and the primary purpose of the government is to prevent development so that its future acquisition cost will be lower, this is inappropriate and not allowed. This may well serve to be a cautionary tale.

But this particular case in Saratoga Springs is not that straight-forward. The area also lacks sufficient secondary water, and is another reason the council did not approve the proposed rezone. This alone may be an appropriate reason for denial. But it certainly should make planners stop and think about the rationale being used for approval or denial of rezones.

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