Deseret Morning News graphic

The Utah League of Cities and Towns, coming out as expected in opposition to a controversial bill that would curtail local zoning powers, urged local government leaders to lobby lawmakers to vote down the proposal.

Ken Bullock, executive director of the League, said municipalities were given no choice but to oppose the measure during the session. Mayors were asked Monday to lobby against the bill and pass resolutions opposing it during city council meetings.

"I think the position was really established on their end when they drafted a bill without any input on something that's of paramount importance to local government," he said. "We've demonstrated our willingness to work with them on issues, and for them to draft legislation that is so punitive — that tells us how they want to negotiate."

The league is prepared to discuss a compromise to the bill after the session, Bullock said.

But backers of the bill already plan to meet today to rewrite and revise SB170, sponsored by Sen. Al Mansell, R-Sandy, a Realtor.

In its present form, SB170 would change several aspects of the zoning process. Cities would be given set time periods to respond to zoning requests. City councils would be limited to drafting a general plan, a city zoning map and rezoning areas that cover 25 percent or more of a city's land.

Opponents say the measure "completely removes citizen input" from the planning process. Supporters say it's a matter of equity and fairness, something that requires cities to follow laws and not zone according to whim.

The bill in its original form was intended to send a message to abusing cities, said Chris Kyler, lobbyist for the measure.

"There's not a thing in this bill that is not merited," said Kyler, executive vice president of the Utah Association of Realtors. "We anticipate once it's rewritten, this bill will have absolutely no practical day to day application or impact in cities that are already treating current and future landowners fairly."

Mansell said Monday the league's opposition to the measure is nothing new.

"They took that position before they looked at the bill," he said.

Mansell also said he will pass something this session to rein in cities that abuse current planning and zoning laws.

"Substantial changes in the current law will be made before the session is over," Mansell said. "It will be through this bill or others."

SB170 hasn't had a hearing yet, but once scheduled, it will be before the Senate Business and Labor Committee, of which Mansell is a member.

About 150 mayors, planners and city representatives attended Monday's meeting of the league. Only one spoke in support of SB170 — Chris McCandless, a Sandy city councilman, said from businessman's standpoint he supported the bill because of alleged abuses by some cities.

West Jordan, Provo and Summit County have been labeled as the worst abusers by making it unnecessarily difficult for developers to satisfy local ordinances and get their projects approved.

Gary Crane of Park City, who urged league members to aggressively oppose the bill, said the legislation was "couched in such a manner to let one firm continue to sue cities, counties, towns and municipalities."

Indeed, the bill was partially drafted by Hutchings, Baird and Jones, the law firm that represents Anderson Development. Anderson has more than a dozen active lawsuits against cities over zoning decisions.

House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, is employed by Hutchings, Baird and Jones.

Monday, several mayors had already started to send notes and e-mails to lawmakers who represent their areas, asking them to oppose the bill.

Next Monday, members of the League of Cities and Towns will meet again to discuss strategy in defeating the bill.