Jay Evensen: Should the people be allowed to overturn city planning decisions?

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  • Walt Nicholes Orem, UT
    Jan. 25, 2019 5:31 p.m.

    Since zoning changes can happen fast, and without fanfare, citizens either need the ability to challenge them, or citizens need the ability to recall members of the city council.

    With assurances that he or she will fairly represent the constituents, one can be elected and turn on a dime. The ensuing 4 or 6 years in office can do a lot of damage before the opportunity arrives to vote them out again.
    They work for the people, not the builders. Not for the school district. Not for the college. Not for the mall developers.

  • ResponsibleRealist Draper, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 4:38 p.m.

    To put every zoning decision on the ballot would be a mistake. I agree with earlier points about mob mentality and low-income homeowners. However, that is not the issue at hand. This is about whether zoning decisions should be referable to ballot.

    Have you ever looked at the referendum process? It's no easy task. Big difference between putting every zoning change on the ballot and taking away the ability for a referendum. To take these checks and balances away from citizens would assume that all political leaders have the residents best interest in mind all of the time.

    Take the massive Herriman area development for example. After it was vetoed, an independent research firm conducted a feasibility study and said it would have been a poor planning disaster. The developer was getting off scot-free as far as investment in infrastructure.

    Lo and behold, county records revealed that the developer had donated tens of thousands of dollars to some of the SLCo Council member's campaigns. Not saying there was anything illegal, but it's difficult to believe they were only thinking about the interest of the people with their original decision to allow the rezoning.

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 1:19 p.m.

    If we put every development decision on the ballot... what do you think will happen if somebody wants to demolish an area of affordable houses where lower income people live (with little political voice) and build a tony neighborhood where only higher income folks can afford to live?

    Think the poor folks living in the area will prevail? I don't.

    So no... we shouldn't do city planning by popular vote.

    How often do you think people would vote to put a homeless shelter in their neighborhood? And yet... it needs to be done.

    There needs to be a planning commission, and there should be a way to overrule them when there's a good reason. And there's already a mechanism to overrule them.

    Google "Handbook for New Planning Commissioners - Utah.gov"...

    It's called an Appeal. Where a person, board, commission, agency, or other body can appeal a land use application or variance.


    Planning has deep roots in Utah. SLC was a planned city. The plan guided the design and development of over 300 cities in the intermountain west.

    It's how we decide how many parks are needed, and where. And where heavy industry will be located (not in a residential area) etc.

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 12:47 p.m.

    RE: "Some growth yes. But too much and economies and quality of living can be destroyed"...
    Well if you know the "Right" amount of growth that everybody would agree is the "right" amount... tell us what it is. And see if we agree.


    Utah does not need to lure big business to come to Utah"...
    We don't need big businesses in Utah if you don't care if there are jobs, real jobs, not just working at the local mom & pop malt shop, for your kids when they graduate from college.

    There was a time when if your kid graduated from college they had to move to CA or back East to get a good job. Now they can get a good job right here. I think it's great! My kids can work and live in State, instead of having to move to another State to find a good job after graduation. A good thing.


    RE: "They should never reduce these big companies tax bills"...
    "Never" is an absolutist term. Usually indicates a radical position when they use terms like never, always, etc.

    IMO it's OK sometimes. When the jobs and long term economic stimulus is big enough (like the deal to delay taxes on the Delta Center).

    It's not a Never or Always situation IMO.

  • Brett AA Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 12:29 p.m.

    No citizens should not be able to unless in extraordinary situations. We have representative democracy for a reason and should not make it a common occurrence to have these things on the ballot. Also builders and cities should have to show that their development can be handled by existing infrastructure or that the impact fees can fund the upgrading of the infrastructure.

  • zipadeedoodah Lehi, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 11:44 a.m.

    "Growth is good. Without it, economies stagnate"

    Some growth yes. But too much and economies and quality of living can be destroyed.

    Utah does not need to lure big business to come to Utah. They should never reduce these big companies tax bills. Too often government officials think that it is okay to subsidize billion dollar companies to come here. they then load the taxes on the locals. Not good! Officials who do this sb voted out of office. Better yet, those running for office sb better vetted by voters to know where they stand on these issues.

    Yes, communities should stand up to local governments to check their actions.

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 11:25 a.m.

    RE: "@2-bits: You think the City planning commission has the people's best interest at heart?"...
    I don't know if every City Planning Commission in every city in the nation has the communities best interest at heart. But that's their job.

    If they aren't doing their job, replace them. It's easy to do. It's very local. They are appointed by the people you elected to run your city (very local). If they aren't doing their job, go to city council meetings and demand they be replaced or the people who appoint them will be replaced.

    The Planning Commission's role is...
    Fundamental issues like the location of growth, housing needs, and environmental protection.

    Planning helps account for future demand for services, including sewers, roads, and fire protection.

    The commission is made up of five or more individuals who have been appointed by your local city council. They serve without compensation and cannot hold any other public office or position in the City.

    Usually they are lay people without any previous land use experience. Not politicians. Not developers. People, like you or me.

    If they aren't doing their job.. replace them.

  • RiDal Sandy, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 10:19 a.m.

    You think the City planning commission has the people's best interest at heart ? That is frightfully naive. I am reminded of the quote from one of the authors of the US Constitution:

    "Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." --Daniel Webster
    US diplomat, lawyer, orator, & politician (1782 - 1852)

  • 2 bits Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 9:30 a.m.

    RE: "Should the people be allowed to overturn city planning decisions?"...

    Because every person votes towards their own self-interest. City Planning Commissions look at what's best for the community as a whole.

    If individuals with their own self-interest in mind make the decisions (not the city planning commission)... the people with the most money, the biggest voice, the ability to organize (which is not the poorest among us BTW) get what they want. Even if it's not best for the poor among us, or the community in general.

    So no, we should not ignore the city planning commission recommendations if somebody doesn't like it and can make a big fuss.

    If the City Planners are out of line... un-elect them, and elect city planners who are.

    That's how things work in America. By elections. Not by mobs of people with torches and pitchforks.

    Unelect them. Don't just override one decision you don't like.

  • 501CM Sandy, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 9:01 a.m.

    Well done piece. I appreciate concerns of those living in certain places. However, the reality the rest of the world has found is that the idea of everyone having a single family home is just not feasible in the growing world.

  • AlagnakLounger Heber City, UT
    Jan. 24, 2019 8:57 a.m.


    We are lurching ever closer to the tyranny of the majority of a pure democracy. God help us.

  • Viva la Migra Denver, CO
    Jan. 24, 2019 6:40 a.m.

    The people should have a voice. There are few self-limits on what developers would do to profit from building. Take a look at the areas surrounding downtown Denver, where single family homes are being torn down and replaced with hundreds of ugly, 3 story luxury apartments, built sideways to take up the entire lot.

    That’s what can happen when the politicians of a city get too cozy with developers and change the laws to remove protections.

  • Counter Intelligence Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 23, 2019 1:35 p.m.

    Politicians do NOT know everything - but neither do mobs
    Which is why we have a representative form of a democratic republic
    The answer to the posed question can be seen in past mob decisions: A town center killed in Centerville which resulted in a Walmart
    A killed proposal for a new smaller Walmart on Parleys, that ended up with a remodeled K-mart becoming a large Walmart with no energy efficiency or landscaping
    A killed planned community west of the airport becoming a state prison and industrial inland port (because it is unconstitutional to withhold services in order to force land to remain undeveloped)
    A killed planned community in west Layton becoming a traditional schlock suburban development (instead of a Davis County Daybreak type community)

    Its hard to reign in mobs with legal realities and constitutionally required justice

  • at long last. . . Kirksville , MO
    Jan. 23, 2019 11:02 a.m.

    Flipphone- Limiting new building will increase housing prices, it's true. However, it would also protect the quality of life for those folks already here. Think about the eventual consequences to blindly following the 'Growth' paradigm. It is unmitigated disaster within a few decades. We cannot go on attracting people to the valley and have anything near the quality of life we now enjoy. Don't build it and they won't come.

  • stratman Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 23, 2019 10:27 a.m.

    Citizens have rights on what they want in their communities, but there needs to be a valley-wide master plan in place before building.
    Currently there is not enough capacity; light rail, mass transit, classrooms for the kids etc., that comes with high-density developments.
    Developments must also fit in with the character of the area and that will require compromise. Developers can’t be allowed to build into areas that are not suited for it.
    Looking at Sugarhouse, they are close to the freeways and there is a feeder to light rail that ultimately could be expanded but what about school capacity there? We can certainly learn from what is and isn't working there before we turn these untamed developers loose on our other communities.
    There needs to be compromise on both sides, but if we allow our elected officials to make decisions without citizen input and give up our rights to effect these changes we will end up with unaffordable housing and a diminished quality of life for everyone.
    Do not the legislature and out local cities take away our rights and give them to the developers and let us end up giving away the very things that we all enjoy and currently take for granted.

  • Flipphone , 00
    Jan. 23, 2019 10:18 a.m.

    Sandy voted against building high density housing, the results will be higher home prices in Sandy. That is wonderful for we who already own homes here.

  • Flipphone , 00
    Jan. 23, 2019 10:17 a.m.

    If you have excess demand for something, you either increase the supply or watch as the price of that thing rises. If we don’t find the courage soon to get serious about more housing, Utah will go the way of San Francisco, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone.

    Supply has to match demand.

  • SMcloud Sandy, UT
    Jan. 23, 2019 8:31 a.m.

    The facts are:
    Salt Lake valley is running out of buildable land.
    Not everyone wants to commute for an hour.
    We need more housing. Not everyone wants a five bedroom house with a yard.

    Build dense housing downtown, and along Trax stations.

  • sgallen Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 23, 2019 7:59 a.m.

    Has any large city been able to manage growth while minimizing congestion and pollution? If so we should look st what they’ve done. I think Vancouver May be an example

  • Makid Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 23, 2019 7:45 a.m.

    There are 2 problems here:

    First, Planning Commission doesn't update the zoning rather it states if the project fits within the zoning. It is the City Council (Elected Representation) that updates the zoning.

    Second, most apartments being built along the Wasatch Front are not high density but rather medium density. It doesn't matter how many apartments are included if the land size is larger. 300 units on 1/2 an acre is high density. 250 units on 5 acres is medium density (this is the standard apartment size going up outside of Salt Lake City).

    Zoning changes have been happening for a long time, most land started as agriculture with 1 unit per 10 to 20 acres. This was changed over time to be 1 per acre, then 4 per acre, to the current average of 6 per acre for single family homes.

    If you started with 1 per 20 acres, 1 per acre is medium density and 4 per acre is high density. It is all about perspectives.

    People should work to encourage transit usage to limit traffic rather than try to stop growth, unless they want taxes to increase. Most cities cannot support utilities and maintenance on current zoning levels and need higher density and growth to survive.

  • Dixon1000 Phoenix, AZ
    Jan. 23, 2019 7:44 a.m.

    Good article. The appropriate time for neighbors to weigh in is during the entitlement process, before city council votes. Referendum votes make it impossible for builders and developers to operate with confidence. Affordability is a tremendous problem and restrictive zoning, nimbyism, and referendum votes will only serve to price your children and grandchildren out of the state.

  • Ranch Here, UT
    Jan. 23, 2019 7:39 a.m.

    Oh goodness, I agree with the conservatives on this thread; god help us all.

  • at long last. . . Kirksville , MO
    Jan. 23, 2019 6:55 a.m.

    Have mere people overturn a decision by bureaucrats! What are you thinking?

  • J. Smith Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 23, 2019 6:56 a.m.

    Not if they are unreasonable or without viable merit. Otherwise you will not have controlled growth and the services and tax dollars you will need for the respective projects......

  • Red Smith , 00
    Jan. 23, 2019 6:43 a.m.

    A better question is: "Should new city councils be allowed to un-record recorded building lots from prior old city councils actions?"

    What city actions can be overturned by the people? If it's all of them, then expect building lots to be un-recorded. Un-recordng building lots is where this is headed.

  • djc Stansbury Park, Ut
    Jan. 23, 2019 6:37 a.m.

    A few holes in this opinion. First: Builders, Realtors, and developers have control of much of Utah's government. Ivory, Woodbury, and others have been able to do whatever they wanted for many years. Now, the citizens have found their voice and are questioning why this has been so for so long. Second: is this myth of affordable housing. With the current wage structure most younger people can not afford any housing. The funny thing about these developments being sold to us as affordable housing is that they aren't. They aren't affordable. The sole outcome of high density is more money in the developer and builder's respective pockets. That is this citizen's view on this issue.

  • NoNamesAccepted St. George, UT
    Jan. 22, 2019 7:43 p.m.

    @Shaun: "I agree with your comment but I don’t see affordable housing outside or on the fringes of the Wasatch front. It seems builders are getting top dollar every where."

    Builders will always get top dollar for the area. They get top dollar for high density as well. In fact, they get higher profits on high density than they do on lower density, especially when the drop it into existing single family neighborhoods.

    I don't know how to get lower cost housing in areas where land is becomming scarce.

    I know that housing costs are half the cost in rural areas of Utah that they are along the Wasatch Front, for roughly the same home and yard. Supply and demand. If it is beyond commute range of the WF then land is generally much less expensive.

    The other problem as we talk about "average" homes is that the size of average homes is going up. A 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1000 sq ft home is less costly than a 3000 sq ft home. But most buyers seem to want bigger.

    My point is, high density in single family neighborhoods isn't lowering the cost of housing. It is enriching developers and destroying quality of life. We need to stop accepting high density as any solution to high costs.

  • Impartial7 DRAPER, UT
    Jan. 22, 2019 7:06 p.m.

    Yes. The people need a legal voice. Especially when City planners and zoning decision makers are allowed to accept "donations" from developers and builders.

  • Shaun Sandy, UT
    Jan. 22, 2019 6:55 p.m.

    @no names

    I agree with your comment but I don’t see affordable housing outside or on the fringes of the Wasatch front.

    It seems builders are getting top dollar every where.

  • 1covey Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 22, 2019 5:54 p.m.

    Developers have way too much power. Money, the promise of it. Lots of it( lucky or unlucky pun ). The community should vote on it; it should not be left to community representatives. Also, it seems advisable for the whole county to look at the whole picture; and determine what long range goals and limitations need to be set. We are all in this together and it would be a mistake to have communities competing against each other, being played by developers. Actually, to be fair to developers, there is a lot of redevelopment needed in this valley. A group effort can go a long way to planning to benefit most, if not all denizens, current and future, in this valley. And looking beyond this valley as well.

  • NoNamesAccepted St. George, UT
    Jan. 22, 2019 4:56 p.m.

    Jay, you've framed this inaccurately.

    The character of any community should be set by those who live there. Short of infringing enumerated rights of minorities, those who live in a community have the right to self-determination.

    To avoid conflicts, most cities impose zoning that limits the use of private property. A hog farm, composting operation, or all night bar simply are not compatible with sub-urban, single family living. Neither is high density including because of the perpetual lack of adequate parking. Under zoning, I surrender the right to do anything I might like with my land so as to avoid conflict with my neighbors and to enjoy the benefits of knowing my neighbors have similar restrictions on their land use.

    Move in next to land zoned high density and you'll get no sympathy from me when the apartments are built. But when the rules get changed mid-game to benefit outside interests over long-time residents, we rightly chafe.

    HIgh density belongs in urban cores or at least in commercial areas, not in single family neighborhoods.

    And none of the recently proposed high density developments were "affordable".

    Want affordable housing? Develop off the Wasatch Front.

  • LoveLondon Murray, UT
    Jan. 22, 2019 4:33 p.m.

    Yes, the people should be allowed to overturn city planning decisions because city planners are usually too cozy with developers.