ST. GEORGE — From the Lake Powell Pipeline to providing incentives to developers to build affordable housing, there wasn’t much the six candidates for St. George City Council disagreed on during a debate held at Dixie State University Wednesday evening.
The debate was organized by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce and Dixie State’s Institute of Politics and Public Affairs. It featured incumbents Bette Arial, Ed Baca and Jimmie Hughes, and challengers Greg Aldred, Dannielle Larkin and Gregg McArthur.
The candidates were each given two minutes to answer the six questions. Among the questions were the seemingly perpetual and often controversial issues of the Lake Powell Pipeline and Northern Corridor.
While the majority of the candidates support the idea and argued there is a need for the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline in order to supply the St. George area with additional water, Aldred said he remained undecided on the matter.
“It’s something we have no decision on,” Aldred said of the pipeline. “I spoke to a (state) legislator just last week, and he said to me, ‘It’s going to happen whether you support it or not.’”
Based on his understanding of the county’s current water resources, which is supplied solely through the Virgin River basin, Aldred said there was enough water there to support over 380,000 people.
Unlike the pipeline, Aldred supports the building of a Northern Corridor, the proposed roadway that would cut through part of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and connect Red Hills Parkway with Interstate 15 via Washington Parkway. Building the corridor was an issue the six candidates largely agreed on.
While state and local road planners tout the need for the Northern Corridor as a means to help reduce traffic congestion caused by an increasing population over the next 30 years, others oppose it because it cuts through protected Mojave desert tortoise habitat.
“If we don’t build the corridor, it’s going to create some additional issues for us,” Hughes said, adding that the Northern Corridor was something promised to the county in the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Act.
Hughes said the roadway would also work great as a fire break in the reserve, noting that wildfires decimated the tortoise population several years ago.
Questions of supporting a tax increase for road infrastructure and the SunTran bus service were also posed to the candidates. None of them liked the idea of raising taxes on city residents. In answer, most pointed to the 0.25% sales tax recently passed by the Washington County Commission for road maintenance and transportation funding.
Larkin, who is a major proponent of active transportation, said she supports SunTran as a part of the city’s overall active transportation program and proposed ways the city could save on costs associated with transit service and road infrastructure.
“Infrastructure maintenance is insanely expensive,” Larkin said before suggesting the city invest more in the concept of “urban infill.”
According to the National League of Cities, urban infill is defined as “new development that is sited on vacant or undeveloped land within an existing community and that is enclosed by other types of development. The term ‘urban infill’ itself implies that existing land is mostly built-out and what is being built is in effect ‘filling in’ the gaps.”
Mixed-use developments fall into this category, which Larkin said the city needs more of. She also said a measure of commercial development should be located closer to neighborhoods to reduce the need to travel by car or SunTran.
Another question asked if the city should offer incentives to developers, such as reduced impact fees, to encourage the building of affordable housing. Again, the candidates were primarily in agreement on the concept, though Baca said the city is already doing this.
“The city of St. George is pretty active in this area,” Baca said, adding that the City Council voted to waive impact fees on the incoming RiverWalk Village affordable housing development. “The city is doing all it can to support attainable housing.”
McArthur said impact fees are a complicated issue, yet agreed that the city could offer more incentives in this regard.
“I’d like to see the city look at impact fees so something can be done for affordable housing,” he said, noting that he didn’t want to see existing residents have to pay the bill for new growth as a result of reduced impact fees.
The candidates’ views on the city’s policy toward overnight rentals, also known as short-term rentals, was addressed. Most support the city’s current policy that only allows short-term rentals in areas specifically zoned for it that also sport particular amenities for renters. Short-term rentals in regular neighborhoods are not allowed.
“When the city evaluated short-term rentals, we had a lot of our citizens with big concerns over noise, garbage, people they didn’t know running around late at night in their community,” Arial said. “These are things that wouldn’t speak to a family-friendly community.”
The city reviewed the issue and decided on policy and zoning they felt best addressed it, which Arial said she supports.
The six candidates will appear on the ballot in the general election set for Nov. 5.
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