The ink on Salt Lake City's monster home ordinance is still damp, but a bill before the Utah Legislature may restrict similar laws in the future.
SB170, which would alter the way cities zone and who bears responsibility for those zone changes, could block cities from regulating the aesthetics of buildings allowed in neighborhoods as well as smaller details, such as height and setbacks, that Salt Lake's compatible infill ordinance governs.
Even though the bill has yet to have a committee hearing, the first step in the process to becoming a law, critics are lining up against it.
The bill focuses on property owners who own at least two acres. It would restrict cities from changing zoning when the change would "materially diminish the reasonable investment-backed expectations of the property's owner." It also requires that cities follow property owners' desires when considering a zone change and removes aesthetics from the list of things cities can consider in their general zoning plans. Generally, the changes seem to shift influence to emphasize the desires of an individual property owner over a neighborhood or city's regulations.
The committee responsible for hearing the bill switched this week, too, from the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee to the Senate Business and Labor Committee. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Al Mansell, a Sandy Republican and former Senate president, sits on the business and labor committee but not on government operations.
"It changes all of the ground rules that we've been using for decades to make land-use decisions," said Lynn Pace, a Salt Lake city attorney who works on land-use issues. "This bill would shift the burden to the city, so instead of asking 'why should we do this?' the city has to prove 'why not?' That's a huge change."
But Chris Kyler, a lobbyist for the Utah Association of Realtors, said that the bill is simply intended to force cities to abide by their statutes rather than allowing planners or other staff members to arbitrarily deny or change development applications. It was not intended as a reaction to any one city, and Kyler said he doesn't think the bill as written would affect Salt Lake's compatible infill ordinance.
"There have been some people within the ranks of the (Utah) League of Cities and Towns who have taken SB170, and they have misapplied it, and they have thrown gasoline on a fire which didn't need to be there," Kyler said of the lobbying organization for municipalities. "They're saying the bill does more than it actually does. In fact, they're claiming it does 10 times more things than it actually does.
"The bill is in its earliest stage and hasn't even begun to be refined. If there are some unintended consequences in the way it's currently drafted, those will certainly be addressed throughout the process."
For the property owners in Salt Lake's east neighborhoods who fought against monster homes, the shift from collective zoning input to one that favors the individual property owner is particularly rank. It was those owners who argued that what one person does with his or her property affects the neighborhood. For instance, a towering roof line shadows the house next door, and garages that eat up space on a facade also face the house across the street.
Shane Carlson, a member of the Avenues community council that fought for regulation of infill housing, said SB170 doesn't consider the effect of one property owner on a neighborhood."You have no say whatsoever in what is going to happen in your neighborhood," Carlson said. "I think that as far as community coherence . . . it would be devastating."