An influential legislator critical of municipal control of zoning issues and supportive at least in concept of re-examining the whole process is a partner in a development company involved in a yearlong struggle to get a subdivision approved in his city.
Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, said he is neither drafting nor plans to propose legislation to change city planning and zoning practices, adding that concerned citizens, not his own self-interest, are behind any talk of whether state lawmakers should take a closer look.
"There are a number of people who have been talking about the proper role of a city in making zoning decisions," he told the Deseret Morning News. "Some people feel private property owners are being trampled in the city's role of directing the future."
To help ensure his development isn't run over, Harper has enlisted House Speaker Rep. Greg Curtis, R-Sandy. Curtis is more powerful, more vocal and apparently convinced that the land use procedures have to be reviewed. The development company Curtis represents as an attorney filed a lawsuit against Provo City earlier this year stemming from a denied zoning request.
"I am very frustrated with municipalities and how they approach land use," Curtis said. "I think that the owner ought to have some presumptions in regard to use of their property."
The comment alarmed city officials statewide who believe proper planning and zoning is their main shield against hodgepodge development.
Curtis and Harper have exchanged e-mails outlining possible legislative approaches to address municipal control in general, but Chris Bleak, Curtis' chief of staff, says the speaker is not planning to run legislation this year.
Curtis could not be reached for comment on Harper's involvement in the proposed West Jordan subdivision, which came up during a meeting of the Utah League of Cities & Towns Legislative Policy Committee on Oct. 17.
"I made the mistake . . . a week and a half ago of answering a question that said, 'Can you tell us what Rep. Curtis is doing with land use and what is the feeling of your colleagues about land use?' So I responded and said, 'I've had a number of people talk to me about their issues and things they may want to do, and I've had my own concerns and things like that,' " Harper told the Morning News.
Whatever his involvement, Harper, as a partner at developer South Station LLC, would stand to benefit from a law that would give property owners more freedom to develop their land as they see fit.
He is currently seeking city approval for the Lucky Clover Subdivision South Station proposed in West Jordan at about 7300 South and 1100 West. The subdivision has been before West Jordan's planning commission and city council for the past year. In November 2004, the planning commission recommended that the city council vote against the zoning change, mainly because developers want to build one-way or access roads smaller than the city requires.
While South Station remains in negotiations with the city, zoning changes that would allow the roads appear on the verge of approval.
"We're just going through the normal process on that," said Harper, who used to serve on West Jordan's city council and had at one point been director of economic and community development.
But if legislation works out the way Curtis has discussed, that "process" could become a lot simpler. Curtis wants cities to better justify zoning decisions. If a city can't give specific reasons why a property owner's proposed development is "detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the community," it shouldn't be banned, he believes.
Harper said he has been listening to concerns and answering questions but denies that he is a force behind the idea. Still, he said, he has his doubts about the zoning process.
"Having worked for both the city and private development, I have my own views on the way things should be done and, like any person, would like to see certain things changed that I think would be more responsive to property owners' rights," Harper said.
"Elected officials get calls from a wide variety of people, and we're responding to some of the issues and some of the requests," he said.
Curtis has also played a role in South Station's attempts to build Lucky Clover. At a Sept. 27 meeting, he spoke to the West Jordan City Council to answer legal questions about the land-use issues surrounding the proposed development.Harper said Curtis, now in private practice, was asked to attend the meeting because he is a previous city attorney for West Jordan and knows its workings. He said that was the first time South Station has used Curtis as an attorney, and his talk at the council meeting had nothing to do with the possible legislation.