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A citizen activist group is arguing semantics with Sandy city.

Save Our Communities wants the Utah Supreme Court to decide what language voters will see on ballots in November regarding a proposed zoning change on a former gravel pit at approximately 9400 South and 1000 East.

The zoning change has been the crux of a fight between Save Our Communities, Sandy city and developer Boyer Co. for months as the activist group has fought to keep development out of the 107-acre site. The Sandy City Council approved a zoning change last November that would allow a Boyer Co. development with a Wal-Mart and Lowe's Home Improvement store.

Save Our Communities sought a voter referendum on the zoning change, but Sandy city fought the group's efforts to put the change on the ballot. The Utah Supreme Court ruled July 1 that Sandy must hold the referendum. The Boyer Co. petitioned the court Aug. 1 for a rehearing of the case, but there has not yet been a response to that petition.

Now, Save Our Communities wants the court to look at the language that Sandy City Attorney Walter Miller crafted. The group says that Miller's language amounts to little more than favorable marketing.

"They just make it sound flowery and wonderful and market it as though it's the perfect situation," said Robyn Bagley, a spokeswoman for Save Our Communities. "People need to understand when they go into vote, what am I going to get?"

Save Our Communities' request to the Supreme Court said that "the Sandy City Ballot Title utterly fails to inform voters of the consequences of their vote. This failure is a grave threat to the people's sacrosanct right of referendum."

Miller said he did his best to draft impartial language, as state law requires for voter referenda. Save Our Communities wants specific uses listed in the referendum — a sort of "before" and "after" look at the ordinance — but Miller said he tried to keep specific land uses out of the referendum for a good reason.

"There were over 50 different uses under the previous ordinance, and 150 uses under the new ordinance," Miller said. "Either you cull out certain uses or you don't. If you cull out certain uses, then you're going to favor certain parties, and if you cull out other uses, you're going to favor other parties. I chose not to cull out any uses and use the language by the City Council."

A phone call to Wade Williams, director of retail development at the Boyer Company, was not returned Wednesday.

The Boyer Company's petition for a case rehearing and this new petition by Save Our Communities have no specific deadlines for decisions, although all parties hope the court will rule on their requests well in advance of the Nov. 8 general election. Sandy City officials did not know how much lead time they would need to put new referendum language on the ballot, but speculated that it would take several weeks to distribute ballots with revised language.

The Supreme Court has written language for ballot initiatives and referenda in the past. Specifically, in 2000, the court drafted the language for Initiatives A and B. Voters passed both initiatives — Initiative A made English the official state language, and Initiative B required that all proceeds from criminal forfeitures be turned over to the state treasurer's office.


E-mail: kswinyard@desnews.com