Al Mansell

Local government officials and their representatives have been scrambling this week to understand the intent and ramifications of a controversial land-use and zoning bill sponsored by Sen. Al Mansell.

City and county representatives met Thursday with developers who are backing the Sandy Republican's bill.

But still, people are not too pleased with the measure.

"What seems to be happening here is that they're taking a sledge hammer to kill a fly," said Wilf Sommerkorn, community and economic development director for Davis County. "They've got problems and are trying to address that through legislation that yanks the chain on everyone else."

In its present form, SB170 would change current zoning and land-use policies to swing in favor of individual landowners. City councils would be limited to making a zoning map, creating a general plan and rezoning only those areas that cover more than 25 percent of the land in a city.

Mayors, city staff and planning commissions would be charged with other land-use decisions. That means decisions would be made by strict legal interpretation without considering the opinion of other landowners and citizens.

A litany of other changes is listed in the 80-page bill.

While groups like the Sierra Club and Save Our Canyons say the measure is mean-spirited, reckless and "clearly designed to create turmoil," Mansell says his bill may be misunderstood.

"The whole bill is an attempt to bring a few of the cities that have violated the current code and impact fees, and have been unresponsive to the needs of their citizens, to be accountable for their actions," he said.

The former Senate president said his bill, requested by a coalition of builders and developers, was not directed at any particular municipality. While it does forbid residents from starting referendums to overturn land-use decisions, Sandy is "probably one of the least involved," he said.

Groups behind the bill include Anderson Development, Ivory Homes and Development Associates. The measure was written by the firm of Hutchings, Baird and Jones, which employs House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy.

Michael Hutchings, attorney for Anderson Development, could not be reached Thursday. A review of court records shows that Anderson has filed at least nine lawsuits in recent years to overturn zoning decisions in Summit County.

Last week, the group threatened to file another suit against Provo to overturn a zoning decision. A longtime opponent of Anderson Development said Mansell's bill is an attempt to "legislate away (her) rights" since developers can't win by lawsuit.

Thursday, however, planners and representatives from the League of Cities and Towns said they had an open discussion with backers of Mansell's bill and will work to try and change areas of concern.

But in its present form, there is little to like, said Lincoln Shurtz, legislative liaison for the League.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche