Avenues residents have little confidence in Salt Lake City employees when it comes to making planning and zoning decisions, but they still have faith in first-year Mayor Ralph Becker.

That was enough for the Greater Avenues Community Council to postpone for 60 days a vote of no confidence in the city's planning and building services divisions, as well as the city attorney's office.

"We feel that tabling the vote of no confidence is appropriate," said Michael Hughes, a member of the community council board and last year's chairman. "We hear from the mayor's office and the City Council that great efforts are under way to get planning under control."

Greater Avenues council members have expressed concerns over what they say is a continued inconsistency and lack of transparency in the city's planning and land-use decisions.

Community leaders have said city planning and zoning officials too often inconsistently interpret and apply ordinances. Other council complaints allege the city's failure to complete building inspections; a lack of enforcement of permit violations; and inconsistent policies about when permits expire.

"There's no way for an adjacent property owner to know what's been approved on property next door to them," said Shane Carlson, community council board member.

Avenues council members also have said the city unfairly gives preferential treatment to its "customers" — those applying for building permits — over neighbors who want to protect the community's interests.

Becker promised during his campaign to retool the planning division to address citywide frustrations over customer service and planning procedures and to restore the public's confidence in the division.

That hasn't happened quickly enough for the Greater Avenues Community Council, leading to discussion at its July 2 meeting about a possible vote of no confidence. The council will revisit the issue in October.

"All we need is some sign that the mayor is taking some action to change things," said Wayne Green, community council chairman.

On July 11, Becker met with members of the community council and reiterated his commitment to fixing procedural problems with planning and zoning in the city.

Several personnel changes have been made in the planning division since Becker took office in January, including the hiring of Frank Gray as director of community and economic development — which oversees planning.

Becker fired planning director George Shaw in March. The city is conducting a nationwide search for a replacement.

The city also is following recommendations of an April audit commissioned by the Salt Lake City Council that labeled the planning division "dysfunctional." A separate audit is being considered for the city attorney's office, City Councilman Eric Jergensen said.

Becker did not attend Wednesday night's meeting in the Avenues. He was scheduled to visit the Sugar House Community Council as part of the "Mayor's Road Trip" — planned visits to each of the city's 21 community councils.


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