Questions of growth: Santa Clara officials discuss affordable housing, transportation, water usage

ST. GEORGE — Santa Clara City Council discussed numerous ways to keep up with the rapid growth of the city at their Wednesday work meeting, including what affordable housing might look like, public transportation and water conservation goals. 

Santa Clara City Council discusses the agenda at a work meeting in Santa Clara, Utah, May 5, 2021 | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News

The council was joined by members of the Santa Clara Planning Commission to discuss several projects related to the agenda, especially concerns from residents and developers about whether the city will allow apartments to be built, as well as simply how “apartments” are defined. 

“I think maybe some of it’s just semantics with the term ‘apartment’ versus large areas of mass that are just rental projects, per se,” councilwoman Leina Mathis said, adding that residents have told her they are open to dispersed rental properties. “I think for affordable housing reasons, we need all those different types of housing. But I probably agree with them a little bit that we don’t … want huge projects.” 

According to research cited by the Planning Commission at the meeting, Utah’s population is expected to double by 2050. Councilman Ben Shakespeare noted that there is already evidence of a great need for affordable housing in Santa Clara, as apartments are rented before the complexes are built and waitlists are filled. 

“There’s going to be a huge push for more townhomes and more density,” he said. 

Mayor Rick Rosenberg added that in the coming years, Santa Clara may see an increase in apartment complexes, or multiple-family dwellings with a rise in density. Several projects have been proposed with a density of greater than 12 units, which the city does not currently allow, he said. To meet that requirement, developers will need to provide open space to offset the density.

“We may see that,” Rosenberg said. “We haven’t got what I’d call a problem area yet.”

Sprinkler stock image, St. George News

Later in the meeting, Dustin Mouritsen, public works director, presented on the city’s water usage over the past year. In the fiscal year 2019-20, the city used 545,240 million gallons of water. According to the Washington County Conservation District, Southern Utah has 10 years of water left in its storage before they need to seek alternative sources. To combat this, Mouritsen said that Santa Clara is doing its part to reduce water consumption and has set several goals for the city.

Santa Clara owns two wells to draw water from throughout the year, and the city can also purchase water from the conservancy district through the Regional Pipeline. In 2019-20, the city purchased 73,867 million gallons of water from the pipeline. Mouritsen said the city hopes to reduce water purchases from the pipeline.

The city also hopes to reduce the city’s water use rate by 7% within the next five years, encourage each homeowner to save 40 gallons of water per day and educate the public about the importance of water conservation. 

Another area where the city might be looking to restrict activity is in regard to public transportation. City Manager Brock Jacobsen informed the council that Washington County has requested that Santa Clara agree not to implement any citywide public transportation over the next 10 years to support the shuttle system between St. George and Zion National Park. Under the county’s current tax code, because Santa Clara has no citywide public transportation, 40% of the city’s taxes allotted for public transportation are sent to the county for the shuttle. (See Ed. note)

Council decided to consider the request further before responding. As the city’s population grows, the need for public transportation may arise, Rosenberg said, but the council was not ready to make a decision on Wednesday.

Ed. note: This article has been updated for clarity regarding the tax code.

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

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