ST. GEORGE – Candidates for the St. George City Council addressed various topics during a forum Wednesday, including: plans related to the city’s growth, tax-incentives for incoming businesses, their position on the proposed northern corridor and short-term rentals, among other issues.
Five of the six candidates – incumbents Bette Ariel and Jimmie Hughes, along with challengers Ed Baca, Craig Hammer and Gregg McArthur – were present at the forum sponsored by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce. The sixth candidate, Bryan Thiriot, was unable to attend as he is currently in the District of Columbia addressing the Utah congressional delegation regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s draft resource management plan.
In a written statement read by the forum moderator, Thiriot said he is seeking the delegation’s support in getting a supplement to the BLM plan that coordinates with St. George.
The northern corridor
“Transportation, water access and local heritage must be represented into the BLM plan for St. George to be successful,” Thiriot said via the statement.
County and municipal officials see the BLM’s preferred draft plan as a threat to the future of the area. They say it will lock up resources and recreation currently used and enjoyed by area residents. One of the ways the plan could negatively affect St. George, city officials have said, is through blocking access to one of the city’s water sources that resides on public land.
Officials have called the plan a betrayal of previous arrangements made between the BLM and Washington County, particularly in relation to the northern corridor, a road that would cut across the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and connect Red Hills Parkway to Interstate 15.
Each candidate for St. George City Council supports having the proposed roadway.
“This road has been planned conceptually for a long, long time, even before there was a tortoise habitat,” Hughes said. “It needs to be there. It’s a crucial part of our transportation plan.”
“We need to be careful how we proceed,” Baca said, yet also added the northern corridor was previously agreed to. “… I think, probably, we’ll be in a position we’ll need to have (the road) … This is something we’re going to look at, and look at carefully.”
City growth and tax incentives
The candidates were asked to give their position on growth and what an outline for the short- and long-term growth impacts would be.
“Growth is life,” Arial said. “If the city isn’t growing, it’s dying … growth is vital.”
The city does have a long-range plan for the city’s growth, Arial said, and it has been unfolding over the last 20 years. Planning for the future is key, she said, and the community should be involved in the planning process.
“The key to growth … for the short term and long term is planning,” McArthur said, adding his experience as president of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce for the last five years would be an advantage in relation to the city’s continuing economic development.
The City Council can’t do the planning alone, Hammer said, the community needs to be involved.
Each of the candidates also supported the city’s use of tax incentives as a way to attract new businesses to the city.
While the city uses the incentives to bring in outside business, Baca said, the city should also apply them to local businesses and ventures.
While the city has drawn in many manufacturing-based businesses, McArthur said, he would like to see the city use the incentives to start attracting more tech-related businesses.
“I agree we ought to continue to offer those incentives,” Hammer said. “It’s a competitive world out there.”
Short-term rentals, such as those offered through websites Airbnb and VRBO that allow homeowners to rent out their homes to travelers, have become a contentious issue for some city residents.
Earlier this year an Airbnb host challenged the city’s ordinance restricting short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. This led to the city suspending enforcement of the ordinance while it reviews the matter.
“If you stayed in one, you love it, if you live next to one, it’s a pain in the rear,” Hughes said.
Objections over short-term rentals arise over the potentially negative impact visitors could have on a residential neighborhood. Concerns over how many people occupy a vacation home, plus the excess noise, traffic, trash and other potential nuisances, as well as impacts on property values, are commonplace when the subject is brought up.
McArthur said he has stayed in Airbnb homes before and enjoyed it, but in the case of St. George, he will favor the people who already live in the neighborhoods where a short-term rental may pop up.
“We should be very, very supportive of those people,” Hammer said in agreement.
While the city does have areas that are zoned for short-term rentals, the candidates seemingly favored the side of pre-existing property owners over would-be short-term landlords.
There is a need for day-to-day, that is short-term, rentals, Baca said. Whether they should be in a residential community, that’s another question, he said.
Resources – candidate websites
- St. George City Council candidates vow to serve, watch over city
- Primary election canvas is in; future of Ridge Top Complex yet in planning
- City Council candidates talk about growth, code enforcement; see them here, STGnews Videocast
- 11 declare run for St. George City Council
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