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Elk Ridge mayor accused of tampering with Planning Commission recommendation

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 11 2010 10:59 a.m. MDT

ELK RIDGE — A city councilman has accused Mayor Kenneth Lutes of attempting to modify a Planning Commission recommendation before it went to the council, which led to the abrupt resignation of planner Shawn Eliot.

Lutes denied the allegation made during Tuesday's City Council meeting, although Councilman Sean Roylance said he witnessed the confrontation.

"I was pressuring (Eliot) why we couldn't discuss (the commission's recommendation)," Lutes said, when the planner quit.

"(Lutes) got staff to rewrite two of the recommendations before it went to council," Eliot, who was not at the meeting, told the Deseret News.

Councilman Weston Youd said that was council interference and called for an ordinance prohibiting political influence between Planning Commission recommendations and council consideration.

Lutes, in turn, accused Roylance of a conflict of interest. Roylance represents the council at Planning Commission meetings, but he and Eliot are best friends, Lutes said.

Lutes also accused the council of harassing the staff, suggesting to them that they didn't have to follow the direction of the mayor. Some staffers have reportedly quit.

The request that started the infighting came from developer Krisel Travis, who asked for a code change allowing more than 16 lots on a dead-end street. Her hillside development would accommodate 23 lots, she said.

Lutes said he saw a conflict in the Planning Commission recommendation, which was to go with the International Fire Code, which allows 30 lots in single-access neighborhoods and more if homes have sprinklers, while the code governing cul-de-sacs allows 16.

Lutes asked for and received letters of opinion from the public works official and the fire chief because of firefighting risks on dead-end streets. Lutes added his own summary, then he set the request for discussion, rather than action.

Lutes apparently favored the cul-de-sac code, Eliot said.

Planning Commission Chairman Dayna Hughes admitted that the panel's recommendation was based on faulty information, because it didn't know about the conflicting ordinances.

"An error was made, and we should fix it. Either send it back to the planning commission or drop it," Hughes said.

The council voted to send the request back.

Lutes also accused Eliot of running the Planning Commission meetings, and the mayor admitted he questioned the $10,500 budgeted annually to pay the part-time planner.

"Let them run their own meeting," he said of the commission. "The planner is there just to answer questions."

Without a planner, the Planning Commission is foundering, Hughes said, and shouldn't be meeting without that professional in place. Lutes said he was working on that problem.

Frustrations spilled into another request in which developer Tom Henriod asked that the mayor sign off on his development, phase one of Elk Ridge Meadows, approved last December under a previous council.

But the council refused to move forward on it because it was tied to the second phase of the development, which is now in receivership, although Henriod never owned that phase. The council said it first needed clarification from its attorney over several issues.

Former Mayor Dennis Dunn was asked to sign off on Phase 1, Roylance said, but mistakenly signed Phase 2, which eventually went into foreclosure and then into receivership when the bank failed.

e-mail: rodger@desnews.com

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