There are a lot of residents that want to see businesses stay closed. —Jessie Schoenfeld, Highland city council
HIGHLAND — Highland will allow businesses to open on Sundays, reversing 12-year-old city restrictions and changing course on its original decision to bring the issue before voters.
In April the City Council voted 3-2 to allow for Sunday retail business operating hours, but included a provision to have the county place the issue before voters on the November ballot. Tuesday the council met and amended that ordinance, repealing the provision that required ratification by residents in the general election.
The reason? Highland erred in its belief that the county would place the issue on the ballot.
"At that point the county told us they would put an opinion question on the ballot," City Administrator John Park said. "Later, they decided it was not in their best interest."
But Scott Hogensen, Utah County chief deputy clerk auditor, said that the elections office never received an official request from Highland and had given no assurances that an opinion question would be included on the ballot. More importantly, he said a ballot item like the one Highland was pursuing is not allowed by Utah state code.
"Nothing had ever been asked for in the first place," Hogensen said. "I don't know why they thought we had signed off on it."
Without the requirement that residents ratify the decision, the ordinance to allow Sunday shopping is effectively law. Park said that residents who oppose allowing businesses to open on Sundays and intended to vote against the ordinance now have the option of petitioning the county for a referendum vote, which would require 889 signatures.
But critics say the council's action places a new burden on residents who thought they would simply get a chance to vote yes or no on whether shopping should occur on Sundays.
"The problem is the situation has changed since the public hearings," said Manuel, a highland resident who spoke on condition only his first name be used. "There should be a different way to find out what the majority opinion is in Highland rather than forcing the citizens to do a referendum."
Council member Tim Irwin said the provision requiring public ratification was a key point in his support for repealing the Sunday restrictions. He said the public has shown very strong and divided opinions on the issue and it has been difficult for him or anyone on the council to be certain what the majority of residents want.
"This is the kind of decision that needs to be decided by people who live in Highland," he said. "I suspect there will be (a referendum) and I would support that."
Irwin said that if residents decide to not organize signatures for a referendum, that will signal to him and the council that the community is generally in support of the new law.
Council member Jessie Schoenfeld said that when the council passed the ordinance, it believed there would be no problem including the question on the November ballot. She said because of the sensitive nature of the issue, it felt right to let a popular vote be the final say on whether Sunday restrictions would be lifted.
"There was no question that it would happen," she said. "We were under the impression it was all going to go pretty well."
Schoenfeld, who voted against the repeal in April, said she also expects residents to organize a referendum.
"There are a lot of residents that want to see businesses stay closed," she said.
Schoenfeld and Brian Braithwaite each voted against the plan for Sunday business in April and again voted no Tuesday to repeal the election provision. Scott Smith voted with
Irwin and Tom Butler in favor of removing the Sunday restrictions.
"Anybody who lives inside of Highland, within five minutes of their home, there’s not one person in Highland who can’t shop on Sunday, so no one is going to be restricted. In my opinion, this is an issue, like many other things we choose to do as a city, we choose a certain set of values," Braithwaite said.
Park said because of the language of the ordinance, if the provision requiring a vote had not been removed in Tuesday's action, the law relaxing Sunday shopping regulations would likely have been nullified in its entirety.
Council members in support of the changes said the ordinance was made to increase city revenue by promoting economic development. Supporters have argued that the ban on Sunday commerce has deterred new businesses from looking at Highland as an option.
"I think every city would like to have a little more revenue and we're no exception," Schoenfeld said.
The city Tuesday cancelled a public hearing concerning an amendment to its general plan that would change the land use designation for an 86.8-acre area from low-density residential to mixed use. The city cited the need to have more public meetings and open houses.
"We're listening and we want to know more, and that's why we are proposing to cancel the public hearing at this juncture," Mayor Lynn Ritchie said. "We want our land values and our home values to stay where they are at and not be hurt. We need more time to go through that with you as citizens."
Most of the attendees of Tuesday's meeting left following that decision, leaving few to argue for or against the Sunday business decision.
Park denied rumors that the land use change and the Sunday shopping law was in response to a large retailer expressing interest in building in Highland.
"I have no retail business that is talking to us right now," Park said. "We don't have any big box waiting in the wings."