The Utah Supreme Court has ruled against a Salt Lake developer in a case that city attorneys say sets an important precedent strengthening the city's zoning ordinance.
"The importance of this decision is that we don't have to have this massive development project cluttering up the Avenues," said Assistant City Attorney Bruce Baird.The developer, Jack Scherbel, filed a lawsuit in 1980 after he failed to get city approval of a large apartment complex planned for his property on the southeast corner of E Street and Second Avenue. The case was argued in front of the state's highest court in 1987.
Scherbel brought his plans to the city for approval while a massive Avenues downzoning campaign was being waged. Scherbel's proposal wasn't in compliance with current zoning or the proposed downzoning, but the developer claimed he had vested rights.
The Supreme Court decision said no.
Prior to this case, developers would hear of potential zoning changes and claim vested rights after making application for the proper city permits. "Then they'd run in with some preliminary sketches and claim they had some vested rights for development," Baird said. "The court clearly said they had to have some pretty final plans that would have met the existing zoning prior to the change."
The court also found that appeals of zoning decisions should be argued in front of the city's Board of Adjustment, rather than in front of the mayor or the City Council. To appeal a board of adjustment decision, the only avenue is through the legal system.
"What the court did is they just took it away from either political arm of the city and sent it to a non-political arm of the city where the only recourse is the courts," Baird said. "It does insulate it in some ways from political pressure."