ALPINE — Plans to build a new charter school in Alpine hit a snag this week when the City Council passed a 30-day moratorium on constructing buildings in the city that are bigger than 20,000 square feet.

The moratorium is a direct response to HB172, which allows charter schools to build wherever officials at the school have purchased land. The legislation, passed in this year's Legislature, is the same right historically afforded regular public schools.

"I think the city's been very unhappy that the control of what happens in our own city has pretty much been taken out of our hands," said Alpine Councilman Hata Puriri. "There may be the perception that we're trying to stall (Mountainville Academy), but we are trying to work for the best of our community."

According to HB172, "a municipality may subject a charter school to standards within each zone pertaining to setback, height, bulk and massing regulations, off-site parking, curb cut, traffic circulation and construction staging."

Puriri said the council passed the moratorium following the advice of the city's Planning Commission. The commission wants to develop an ordinance that defines the city's regulations for bulk, mass and off-site parking.

"This issue's never come up with us before," Puriri said. "We've never had anyone besides the Mormon Church wanting to build a building that big in a residential area."

Although the ordinance will most immediately only affect Mountainville Academy, Mayor Otis Willoughby said the ordinance will ultimately affect all non-commercial buildings, including churches.

The moratorium applies to applications received after May 1, a point of dispute for U.S. Charter Development, the company developing Mountainville Academy.

The council ruled that plans received from U.S. Charter Development before May 1 were incomplete. Finished plans were not received until May 15, Puriri said.

But Glenn Way, managing partner of U.S. Charter Development, said the company was told on Monday that their plans to build were already vested with the city.

"This is an outrage," Way said. "They would never — and they never have — treated Alpine School District the way they've treated us."

Another point of dispute on the moratorium lies with language in HB172 that states the "bill clarifies that the standards that a county and municipality are authorized to impose on a charter school must be objective and not subjective."

Way said the City Council's actions are in breach of that stipulation.

"The citizens of Alpine city elected their City Council to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, the constitution of this state, and to protect the role of the law," Way said. "What we have is a rogue city council who sits there and thinks they can do anything they want."

Way said U.S. Charter Development is weighing all of its options, including litigation with the City Council or moving outside the city.

Either way, according to school founder Gaylee Coverston, the school will be opening in the fall— somewhere.

The Alpine Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the ordinance June 6. According to Puriri and Willoughby, the council hopes to be able to make a decision on the ordinance by June 13 in order to facilitate construction of the school.


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