The prospect of having Emigration Creek run through his back yard is the reason Eric Thompson bought his home in Bonneville Hills.
David Darley chose to live in the Salt Lake neighborhood for the same reason.
"The creek is the highlight of the place," Darley said.
Now, Thompson, Darley and several of their neighbors say they feel they're being punished for those purchases.
The Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday will consider a zoning amendment that would restrict new construction, changes to existing structures and other ground disturbances within 100 feet of creek and stream banks in the city east of I-215.
That means property owners in close proximity to Emigration, Red Butte, Parleys and City creeks soon could find themselves jumping through permitting hoops to add a shed or put up a fence on their property. And those wanting to add on to their homes or build a larger house on their lots most likely would be out of luck.
Reasons for the zoning change, according to the proposed ordinance, include minimizing erosion, stabilizing stream banks, improving water quality, preserving fish and wildlife habitat and reducing potential for flood damage.
Several residents directly affected by the ordinance, however, aren't buying it. They say their property rights have become a casualty of the council's bid to stop a proposed development in the Wasatch Hollow community.
"They've dressed it up in green so it's a nice pill to swallow," Darley said. "But they were looking for a way to stop a builder."
Last July, the council put a six-month moratorium on any development within 100 feet of stream and creek corridors to study what type of permanent protection needed to be put in place.
The action stemmed from discussion about a proposed development of roughly two acres of land behind Wasatch Hollow Park and along Emigration Creek. Developer Don Edwards was proposing to build between six and 11 homes on the property, which raised red flags for the council.
"It surprised us that we didn't have any protections in our stream corridor ordinance," said Jill Remington Love, council chairwoman. "So we voted as a city council to do a moratorium on any construction along stream corridors while we took a look at that ordinance."
That action and the threat of permanent restrictions has cost property owners "hundreds and thousands of dollars on the value of their property," said Alan Condie, also a Bonneville Hills resident.
"You couldn't sell the property without disclosing that you can't do certain things with your back yards, and in some cases, up to your house," Condie said.
"They're penalizing about 2,000 property owners along the streams with undue economic hardship," Darley said. "It changes the nature of my ability to use my property."
The proposed ordinance details the do's and don'ts for property within 100 feet, 50 feet and 25 feet of creek or stream banks, growing more restrictive closer to the waterway. The ordinance calls for all existing construction and structures to be grandfathered in.
For Darley, those restrictions would prevent him from making just about any changes to his property other than yard cleanup and structure maintenance without first getting special permits.
"Twenty-five feet is through my bedroom, 50 feet is through my garage and 100 feet takes in the whole dang house," he said. "My bedroom is about 15 feet from the water."
Some residents own more property on the other side of the creek from their homes, Condie said, meaning their property rights would be restricted on as much as 200 feet of land.
"They lose twice," he said.
Condie said his main gripe with the proposed ordinance is that it doesn't accomplish its objective. The ordinance only addresses pollution, he said, not erosion control or stream-bed stabilization, and the 2,000 or so property owners along city creeks are responsible for very little if any of that pollution.
The main pollution problem, Condie said, is that there's no sewer main up Emigration Canyon. Then there's the fact that the city has been using creeks as the dumping destinations of storm drains.
"The entire population equally shares in polluting the creek because the storm drains empty into them," he said. "Yet this moratorium has affected approximately 2,000 owners who have stream banks passing through their property."
Love, however, said she sees the ordinance as a first step in tackling some of those larger pollution issues.
"There are lots of pieces of that pie," she said, "and as a council, we intend to get to those pieces. Right now, we're dealing with this one piece."
The ordinance has support of several environmental groups, including the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council, which agrees that the ordinance is a positive start.
Love said she expects the council to adopt something Tuesday, because the moratorium is set to expire at the end of the week. Still, she said the council hasn't had enough time to "thoroughly plan and do this ordinance right" and that it likely will be revisited after studies are done to better gauge what protections are needed for specific stream corridors.
"We will adopt something, but my guess is it won't be the final thing," Love said.
That logic doesn't sit well with John Taylor, property owner and member of the Wasatch Community Council.
"In other words, they're saying, 'We know it's wrong, but we're going to pass it. Then we'll come back and study it, and if we have to fix it, we will,"' Taylor said. "That's not how you put restrictions on private property. That's wrong."
As for Thompson, he's hopeful that the council has listened to property owners' concerns and will take them into account in making a decision Tuesday."I really hope the city council looks at this and says, 'Let's be reasonable. Let's make sure this is good for the owners,"' he said.
If approved by the Salt Lake City Council, new construction, changes to existing structures and other ground disturbances will be restricted within designated buffers of creeks and streams. (* allowed by permit only)
Not allowed within 100 feet
Leach fields (soil areas for disposal of septic-tank wastewater)
Storm-water retention ponds
Commercial parking lots
Not allowed within 50 feet
New construction that increases the footprint of a pre-existing structure
Not allowed within 25 feet
New construction requiring heavy equipment
New solid/privacy fences
*New open fences (such as chain link)
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