Council amends ordinances to allow some commercial businesses to open nearer SUU campus

Southern Utah University students use crosswalk to make their way across campus, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 25, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Recently approved changes to Cedar City’s zoning ordinances will allow certain types of commercial businesses to be located within portions of the student housing district that includes and surrounds the Southern Utah University campus.

A student housing building located at the corner of 200 North and 300 West in Cedar City, Utah. Under a recently updated city zoning ordinance, future buildings such as this could house retail businesses on their ground floor, Feb. 25, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Cedar City Council member Tyler Melling, who proposed and drafted the amendments, said they will help make it possible for retail businesses to be located closer to campus, within walking distance for most students. 

The newly updated section of Chapter 26 of the city’s ordinance states that the objective is “to provide for limited commercial uses complementary to student life.”

The City Council discussed the issue at length at its Feb. 3 work meeting, during which several citizens also made comments as part of a public hearing. The following week, at the council’s Feb. 10 action meeting, the City Council made a few more adjustments before passing the measure by a 3-2 vote. 

Melling told Cedar City News he first considered the issue a few years ago, long before he’d even decided to run for City Council.

A local developer had wanted to put a pizza shop or sandwich eatery on the bottom floor of one of the new dormitory apartment buildings near 200 South, Melling said, recalling a discussion he’d heard during a chamber of commerce meeting.

“They just kind of said it on a whim, but the city said, ‘No, there’s no room for that in the ordinance,’” Melling said. “So they just kind of dropped it and said, ‘Never mind.’”

“And I thought, well, that’s really silly,” Melling added. “If there’s good things that people want to do that there’s no room for, maybe there’s a way to create room for that.”

Melling said that although nearby places to eat and shop downtown and along 200 North are relatively close for SUU students with cars, those who do not have their own vehicles may have to walk a mile or more to the nearest grocery store, unless they manage to find a ride with someone else. 

Over the past several months, Melling said he has spent dozens of hours working on the zoning updates for the student housing district, with the input and assistance of city staff.

The new zoning amendments, which do not pertain to home-based businesses, state that the commercial space must be located on the ground floor of a building and occupy no more than 25% of the building’s total square footage. There are also applicable restrictions regarding signage, parking and setbacks, in accordance with existing city codes. 

Certain types of businesses are excluded and will not be permitted, such as gasoline stations and anything with a drive-up or drive-through window.

Map of approved overlay of Cedar City’s Student Housing District, with red lines showing street-fronting areas where certain commercial businesses will be allowed, according to a new Cedar City ordinance approved Feb. 10, 2021 | Image courtesy of Cedar City Council, St. George News / Cedar City News

The affected area, as approved, is between 200 North and 200 South and between 300 West and 800 West, with some portions excluded (see map). Earlier versions of the proposal had extended as far as 1150 West, but following some discussion, the western boundary was moved to 800 West. 

Melling says while he doesn’t know of any specific proposals that are being planned or already in the works, he does envision the possibility of a few new developments happening within the next few years.

“I think a small student grocery on 800 West and Center Street would help students like my wife, who lived on College Way and walked to Lin’s for groceries,” he told Cedar City News. “I could also see a couple walk-up food places on 200 South between some of the existing dorms.”

The accompanying list of permitted and non-permitted uses initially included as many as 94 different types of businesses, leading to much discussion among the council members. 

Councilman Scott Phillips, who was one of two council members who voted against the measure, said many of the businesses categories on the list didn’t seem conducive to a student campus environment. 

For example, even though plasma donation centers were specifically excluded, other types of medical clinics would still be allowed, which Phillips was a sticking point for him

“I still struggle with clinics. I’m going to vote no,” he said as he voted Feb. 10.

Also voting against the ordinance was council member Craig Isom, who had indicated he wasn’t on board with excessive restrictions regarding the list of permitted uses.

“I do not like to be in a position to dictate to free enterprise, what they can and cannot do,” he said during the discussion. “I personally don’t feel comfortable with that. And being the business driver that I am, I’m wondering if each time someone decides to do (something) commercial in the SHD zone, that needs to come before the council?”

Southern Utah University campus, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 25, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“If we look at each of these on an individual basis, I do not feel comfortable saying, ‘Yeah, this is okay but this isn’t,’” Isom added.

Ultimately, a list of 28 permitted uses for the student housing district commercial overlay was approved. Examples of permitted uses include restaurant, drug store, gift shop, beauty parlor, barber shop, ice cream parlor, indoor amusement, craft or hobby store, music store and bicycle sales and repair shop.

Melling said he appreciates the valuable input received from his fellow council members, city staff, developers and members of the public, including SUU students.

Melling noted that now that the zoning overlay is in place, the list of permitted uses can be added to or otherwise adjusted as needed.

“My frustration was, when this was brought up several years ago, there was simply no way, and no room in the ordinance whatsoever,”  he said just before the vote during the meeting. “This creates that way, and we can fine-tune it as needed.”

“In the future, if somebody wanted to do something … they could certainly come before the council and say look, here’s my plan,” Melling added.

The measure also had the support of the Iron County Home Builders Association, which stated in a letter submitted to the council, “We are confident this will help to reduce the parking and traffic issues around SUU by allowing a more walkable environment, also to help the students of SUU, current residents of Cedar City, new and existing businesses in Cedar City, and overall be a great enhancement for the community.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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