Residents fill council chambers to voice concerns over general plan amendment

Councilman Jeff Turek speaks to a city resident regarding the city’s general plan. The Washington City Council chambers were filled with people who came to address the council with concerns related to the city’s general plan and a proposed general plan amendment that some worried will negatively affect them if passed, Washington City, Jan. 11, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

WASHINGTON CITY – The recurring debate between of the expectations and desires of existing residents and the rights of property owners to develop their land played out in a Washington City Council meeting Wednesday evening.

Wait a minute, the general plan showed this was supposed to be a park!

The Washington City Council chambers were filled with people who came to address the council with concerns related to the city’s general plan and a proposed general plan amendment that some worried will negatively affect them if passed, Washington City, Jan. 11, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
The Washington City Council chambers were filled with people who came to address the council with concerns related to the city’s general plan and a proposed general plan amendment that some worried will negatively affect them if passed, Washington City, Jan. 11, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

An 11-acre parcel of land in the area of 4400 S. Washington Fields Road that has long been designated as a potential spot for a future park under the city’s general plan is facing the possibility of being rezoned as a low-density residential area. The parcel is private property, and the land owner in looking to have the area developed.

Neighboring residents from the Stucki Farms development said they aren’t thrilled by the prospect and asked the City Council not to approve the requested zone change.

“We bought that (home) with full faith that that (property) would be a park,” one Stucki Farms resident said.

He and another area resident told the council they based their decision to buy homes in the area partly from information on the city’s general plan, which shows the 11 acres zoned for park use.

I want to enjoy my view and what I had planned based on your records,” the man said.

Councilman Troy Belliston said the area was private property and that the owner had a right to develop the land.

“We can’t force him to make that a park,” he said.

Just what is the general plan anyway?

A Washington City resident eyes a map of the city’s general plan as it is discussed during a City Council meeting, Washington City, Jan. 11, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
A Washington City resident eyes a map of the city’s general plan as it is discussed during a City Council meeting, Washington City, Jan. 11, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Before any development can happen, the property owner needs to apply to the city for a zone change allowing development – or in this case a “general plan amendment.” If granted, the new zoning will allow future development to occur.

The general plan itself is just that – general, Councilman Jeff Turek said. It gives city planners a general idea of how they would like to see the city develop in the future. However, Turek said, it is a fluid and living document that allows changes when land owners and developers ask for an area to be rezoned, as was happening with the 11-acre property in Washington Fields.

You can’t necessarily be guaranteed that the plan isn’t going to change,” he said.

Turek also compared the general plan to a Christmas wish list, as it is what the city and residents – via public input – would like to see in the area but may not necessarily get in the end. At one point, he said, the city wanted to see baseball fields in the area.

General plan amendment requests being submitted to municipalities for review and approval is a fairly common occurrence.

Adding to the mix of the situation is the fact the 11 acres is private property. Opponents of the requested plan amendment said they realized that fact but are still frustrated their original expectations, which had been set on the city’s general plan when they moved into the area, were now being threatened by the potential of future development.

“I think it’s so unfair,” another Stucki Farms resident told the council after explaining she has also consulted the general plan before buying a home in Washington Fields and believed the area would be a future park. “There’s right and there’s wrong,” she said. “It’s just wrong.”

The question of what should be given more consideration – the concerns of existing residents of an area or the rights of a private property owner – is a frequent and seemingly never-ending one that city officials deal with a routine basis.

As a potential way to give people more information when buying a home in Washington City, one woman suggested to the council that private property be cleared marked on the general plan next time. That way possible buyers could understand the future land use could change and not be unpleasantly surprised as Stucki Farms residents were.

I wish everything could be black and white,” Mayor Ken Neilson said.

The City Council did not vote on the general plan amendment Wednesday, as they will take additional time to consider the matter. They will vote on it in the next council meeting set for Jan. 26.

Minor changes to the general plan are immediately added once approved by the City Council, with the overall plan being updated as a whole every five to seven years, Turek said.

Along these lines, in other related business, the City Council was presented with a preview of an updated general plan that has been in the works since May 2016. The new document is much more streamlined and also relied heavily on public comment, according to city officials.

Washington City resident Jim Lillywhite suggested the city invest more in parks and trails for parts of the city and also recommended the city increase property taxes as a way to help fund such projects.

Additionally, the mayor read a letter from former council member Thad Seegmiller announcing his resignation from the council effective Jan. 15. Seegmiller was appointed as the city’s new justice judge last month. Neilson said a notice for an interim council member to fill the remainder of Seegmiller’s term would be out this week.

RAP tax allocations of $1,000 and $45,000 were approved by the council for the Washington City Concert Band and Brigham’s Playhouse respectively.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • Not_So_Much January 12, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Well the Mayor got it right when he said he wished everything could be black and white. It’s always green. To be elected to office in Utah you must pledge to develop, develop and then develop more. It doesn’t have to make sense or be the right thing.

  • outsider_100@hotmail.com January 12, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Without minimizing the intrinsic value that these home buyers placed on having a nice park within their development, it would be hard to prove that the developer committed fraud, by consciously misleading prospective clients……”puffery” seems to characterize what these folks experienced. Personally, I would be more concerned about the numerous aircraft that fly over this development on final approach to SGU every day. A previous article highlighted the exceptional planning, and execution, by the City of St. George, to provide plenty of open space options.

    At least the folks who continue to buy houses in Dixie Springs have no expectation that the original developer was going to create numerous pocket parks throughout their phases. It appears that all they get is one small park at the edge of the development. What you see if what you get.

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