MAPLETON, Utah County — City leaders are questioning whether a grass-roots organization has enough signatures to force a referendum vote on a hotly contested zoning issue, despite a Utah Supreme Court ruling in favor of the resident group. At issue was the city's rezoning of 120 acres on Maple Mountain to allow developer Wendell Gibby to have 47 lots, rather than 23 in the previous ordinance.
Friends of Maple Mountain garnered signatures of 29 percent of Mapleton voters in 2007 to hold the referendum challenging the rezone, but signatures of 35 percent of the registered voters may have been required, city administrator Bob Bradshaw said.
The high court decision overturned the February 2008 ruling of 4th District Judge Darold McDade that the zone change was administrative and so not subject to a referendum. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed, saying it was legislative and subject to a referendum.
McDade also ruled that just 15 percent of the city's registered voters were required to sign a petition to trigger the vote because the case was technically not a land use issue. That portion of McDade's ruling was unchallenged and still stands, attorney Anthony Schofield said. Schofield represents the Friends of Maple Mountain.
The ruling is based on case law that interpreted the statute, he said.
However, Mapleton officials are researching whether to take the 15 percent ruling back to McDade because the high court's decision may have changed the facts and turned the case into a land use issue, which would require 35 percent of registered voters to sign a referendum petition, Mayor Brian Wall said.
"We're researching that," he said.
"We haven't made a final decision yet (whether to proceed with the election)," Schofield said.
"The hot money is on the Friends of Maple Mountain doing nothing," Bradshaw said.
Six residents, all with apparent ties to the Friends of Maple Mountain, signed the application for the referendum petition in September 2007. They are Neil Lundberg, now a Mapleton City councilman; his wife, Mary Lundberg; developer Lewis Bankhead, Ronald Weeks, Jack E. Perry and Sandy Swanson.
Bankhead said the group went ahead with the Supreme Court challenge after losing in McDade's court because they wanted the mountain zoning to be consistent with the city's general plan and because Gibby "was bullying ahead with malicious lawsuits" to force the city to allow the 47 lots.
The city council approved Gibby's plat map with those lots in December, but the approval may become moot. If the referendum vote moves ahead and is successful, then the mountain zoning reverts back to a protective zone, allowing just 23 lots.
Meanwhile, city leaders in other Utah municipalities are scrambling to learn just how the Supreme Court ruling will affect their efforts to rezone land. Bradshaw said it makes all rezones subject to referendum.
South Utah County mayors discussed that issue at a mayor's meeting last week, Wall said.