ST. GEORGE – The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah’s zone change request to build commercial property featuring a Native American cultural center in Southern Utah was denied by the Town of Springdale at a town council meeting Wednesday night.
“Can you imagine the sound of Native Americans once again ringing through the canyon? Drumming and singing, it sent a chill down my spine,” Gaylord Robb, a spokesman for the tribe, said.
Frustrated but not disheartened, Robb said, “Basically, I explained to them, 200 years ago, if you’d gone up into that canyon you wouldn’t have found anything but Paiutes. Europeans were welcome with open arms, and now the Paiutes go up there and ask for rezoning for a cultural center on less than a quarter of a square mile of land and the arrogance of Europeans is to tell them ‘you’re not welcome on that property.’”
He insisted the character of the hillside would remain intact and offered up the solution of a trolley to avoid excavation into the hillside.
“They don’t want their view blocked,” Robb said.
The property in question
When the property, which spans 178 acres, was annexed into the town, it was automatically classified as hillside residential.
Essentially, the request for the zone change was to transform it from residential to commercial so planning and building could begin for the cultural center.
“The landowners gave us commercial permission before we purchased the land. We’ve spent $50,000 learning how to properly use that land and have submitted those plans to the city,” Robb said. “That 50 grand was basically wasted unless we can bring some other option to them that will work.”
The tribe’s goal
“The vote of the Springdale planning and zoning commission was five to zero against rezoning,” Robb said. “What we were asking for was 57 acres to be zoned commercial. At the most, 40 would have been buildable. The other acreage would be for a road or tram. We don’t want to disturb the hillside.
“The property is 178 acres in size, so we were going to zone the rest of that property for public use to build trails and have ancient replicas of Native American sites so people could walk around and see what Native Americans’ lives were like before the European settlers arrived.”
Demonstrations along the trails would include showing and educating the public on medicinal plants and foods the Native Americans worked with and ate at the time.
“We would have been respectful of the land as the Paiutes always have been,” Robb said.
The town council voted unanimously to deny the zone change request with the following findings:
The zone change was inconsistent with these objectives of the General Plan:
2.1.4 Preserve natural open space areas throughout the community.
2.2.1 Protect scenic views of ridgelines, hillsides, cliffs, the Virgin River and the river corridor, and other natural scenic elements as seen from the valley floor and the SR-9 highway corridor.
3.2.1 To the greatest extent possible, avoid rezoning properties from residential to commercial.
7.6.1 Minimize the impact and effect of the town and its developments on the Virgin River Corridor.
13.1.1 Ensure new development and redevelopment in the town is consistent with the Future Land Use Map. The map designates this land as ‘Conservation’, which is defined in this way: These are areas of high natural resource value. These areas could include steep slopes, important view sheds and other visually important areas, wetlands and riparian areas, wildlife corridors, and other areas of high resource value. Conservation areas should be minimally developed. Development that does occur should be designed such that it does not impair the resource value of the area. Public access to conservation areas may be appropriate, and should be accomplished through pedestrian trails. Suggested uses: Open spaces, very low density residential (single family: one unit per five acres.)
Springdale Mayor Pat Cluff empathized with the community’s desire to build a Native American cultural center, but said “it was a really big project and it was in the foothills in an area that has no commercial zoning at present. There are sensitive lands over there. Preserving the character of the town is a big thing for us.”
Cluff said the cultural center would have increased the village commercial zone by 40 percent all at once. “Many people were in favor. We liked the idea of the cultural center, but the placement is inappropriate.”
“I’ve been working for the Paiute tribe for four years,” Robb said. “It’s a project that was already started when I got here. We have a private landowner who has been great about working with us on the details, and is still committed.”
Right now the city and tribe are working on other solutions.
“It’s not a dead issue. We’re examining other options, but I cannot comment on those right now,” Robb said.
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