The City Council decided to take a mulligan.
Immediately after narrowly turning down a request to rezone the Seven Peaks Golf Course for a controversial housing project, the council voted late Wednesday to set it on the tee for another whack in three weeks.In the interim, council members hope to learn the results of a Utah attorney general's probe of a 20-year-old transaction that moved the former Utah State Hospital property from the state to the city to private hands. Assistant attorney general Brian L. Farr told the council in a letter last week that Provo may have some liability to the state if the property is rezoned. He asked the council to hold off on a decision until after a May 12 review.
The council's decision Wednesday prolongs an issue that has dragged on for four years and has been among Provo's most divisive debates in recent memory.
Waiting for answers from the state makes sense to Councilwoman Shari Holweg who urged her colleagues to reconsider the matter May 27.
And when it does come up again, Holweg likely will find herself holding the swing vote. Six of the seven council members appear evenly split for and against the proposal. Although Holweg voted against rezoning Wednesday, she might favor it if the attorney general's office doesn't find a problem with Provo's handling of the land deal in the late 1970s.
"I'm leaning that way, but I don't know," she said after the meeting. "The McQuarrie project isn't a bad project."
Brent and Scott McQuarrie are proposing to build 300 houses, twin homes and condominiums on the golf course they own in the east-side foothills. They intend to donate 52 acres of the 117-acre parcel to the city for open space or a public park. They've also set aside ground for an LDS Church meeting house.
The plan has drawn dogged criticism from residents who don't want to see houses cover one of Provo's last undeveloped areas. They say city leaders 20 years ago intended the land to remain public property when a proposed ski resort failed.
Jefferson Hunt, one of dozens of residents who lined up to speak on the issue during Wednesday's four-hour meeting, called on the current council to honor that notion regardless of the date they were elected. He told the council a group of residents will seek a ballot initiative to overturn any decision to rezone the area for housing.
The land has changed ownership and zones several times over the years. The McQuarrie brothers bought it at auction in 1994 after the state insurance commission seized it from its bankrupt owner.
City Council attorney Neil A. Lindberg, a city planner in 1970s, said he's not sure officials back then ever intended the land to remain open. Its current public facilities zone allows anything from a sewage pumping station to a school to a correctional institutions under certain conditions.
Dave Hatton, Provo, told the council it would violate the public trust to not allow homes on the property when so many people are in need of decent, affordable places to live.
"The golf course is not its best use. That's a marginal golf course. I'm a marginal golfer and I can drive almost every green there," he said.
The short, unkempt 18-hole golf course is losing money and will be closed after this season regardless of whether the city permits the housing project, McQuarrie said.
Providing housing and preserving green space is an issue the City Council has struggled with the past couple of years. Provo continues to grow at a rapid rate both residentially and commercially. Holweg tried to get the council to hold off on the Seven Peaks decision for six months to draft a citywide open-space policy. Council members voted the idea down.
"I think this (Seven Peaks proposal) is a litmus test for the direction this city is going to take," said resident Paul Hyer.