Springdale agricultural rules: Dense business, rural residents, split and balancing interests

Zion National Park's gateway Town of Springdale balancing agriculture and business - Image by Brett Barrett St. George News
Springdale considers new agricultural ordinance | Image composite by Brett Barrett, St. George News

SPRINGDALE – New rules for agriculture are in store for this gateway community to Zion National Park.

The town is considering a new ordinance that will dramatically relax the rules on things like livestock, greenhouses and beekeeping. The establishment of a local farmers market in  2006 and a town sponsored community garden in 2008 are examples of a growing green movement in Springdale that isn’t supported by current town ordinances.

Under rules that were put into effect in 1992, a property that isn’t currently used for agriculture requires a $400 non-refundable filing fee and a “Conditional Use Permit” even for something as simple as a few chickens. The Springdale Planning Commission has been working on a new ordinance since January 2012. A public hearing for a new ordinance was held on Dec. 4 and the Commission approved it by a split 3-2 vote. The Town Council will vote on the ordinance on Jan. 9, 2013.

Farm Controversy

Todd Chamberlin in his garden in Springdale, Utah
Todd Chamberlin in his garden in Springdale, Utah, Dec. 10, 2012 | Photo by Dan Mabbutt, St. George News

Like other rural Southern Utah towns, Springdale has a rich agricultural heritage and locals who have always farmed were “grandfathered” in and have not had a problem. For others, it has not gone so well. In 2010, for example, Todd Chamberlin decided to start keeping a few goats on his property. A neighbor complained and Chamberlin was forced to either remove the goats or pay the $400 fee and go through the long permit process.

The proposed rules will allow a resident like Chamberlin the goats (or other specified agriculture) with a $75 filing fee and a simple application.

“I’m happy that Springdale is making it easier,” Chamberlin said, but he still thinks that it isn’t easy enough. “Paying any fee discourages people from growing their own food. Quality of life is lower,” he said, “if you have to buy produce from box stores that has been shipped from a thousand miles away and treated with pesticides.”

Utahna Jennings’ backyard chicken coop
The Springdale Planning Commission traveled to nearby Rockville to see Utahna Jennings’ backyard chicken coop, Rockville, Utah, Dec. 10, 2012 | Photo by Dan Mabbutt, St. George News

Other categories of agriculture, such as chickens, don’t require a fee.

Slaughtering, Exotic Animals Banned

Some types of agriculture will not be allowed even under the proposed ordinance. For example, slaughtering of livestock won’t be allowed. When the proposed ordinance was being written, animal rights advocates were in favor of allowing slaughtering in Springdale because the alternative is shipping animals to a slaughtering facility somewhere else. Business owners, however, argued that any visible slaughtering would drive away tourists.

Even though llamas have been kept in the neighboring community of Rockville and ostriches can be seen near Virgin, the proposed ordinance doesn’t allow exotic animals. Opponents worried that there would be no way to prohibit any kind of animal, such as camels.

No Livestock in Commercial Zones

TripAdvisor.com lists 13 hotels and 28 restaurants in Springdale, but the town has fewer than 600 full time residents. The dense concentration of tourist-related businesses makes new rules that affect them a key issue.

Dan Marriott, a partner in several large Springdale hotels, commented in the public hearing that business is impacted by the odors and insects near a livestock operation. At the hearing, the Planning Commission deleted the part of the proposal that would have allowed livestock in the two commercial zones in Springdale, which contain about 15 percent of the area of the town.

Killing the Golden Goose

Few issues have attracted this much attention in Springdale in recent years. Opponents of relaxed rules worry that activities like livestock and beekeeping could ruin their quality of life and damage the tourist industry of the town. Supporters argue that tourists come to Springdale because it still has an agricultural atmosphere.

In her comments during the hearing, Michelle Bonner said that beehives can be found on the grounds of the upscale Empress Hotel in the heart of the urban tourist destination Victoria, British Columbia. If Springdale loses its rural atmosphere, supporters claim it would amount to killing the goose that lays golden eggs.

Ed. note: The author serves on the Springdale Planning Commission; this report was undertaken after the Commission’s role in the matter was completed.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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