Ivins City Council scales down developer request, considers future moratorium on rezoning

IVINS — In the last meeting in the chambers at the old City Hall before the formal opening of the new Ivins City Hall on Friday, the Ivins City Council downsized a developer’s zoning change request to increase the number of potential properties on their vacant land. They also set in motion the possibility this may be one of the last rezoning requests for a few months.

Ivins City Council holds its last meeting in the council chambers at the old Ivins City Hall a day before the formal opening of the new City Hall next door, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 4, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In a narrow 3-2 vote Thursday that had council members visibly pensive about the land at the corner of Old Highway 91 and 200 West, the council approved a scaled-back version of the request of Reed Scow and Sunshine Seven LLC to increase the density of their parcels.

Scow was seeking to have the land rezoned from low-density, which allows a minimum of 1 acre for parcel size, to high-density with 5,000-square-foot minimal lot size to allow for 17 single-home lots and 36 townhome units.

However, the council amended the request to medium-density, 7,500-square foot lots – the same as the Shadow Canyons area just to the east.

Mayor Chris Hart said nearby residents have spoken out both in emails and in-person opposing the idea of multistory townhomes being built closer to them on land they had thought would remain less cluttered. The currently vacant seven acres of land separates Shadow Canyons from another set of townhomes.

Approximately 7 acres of empty land at the corner of Old Highway 91 and 200 West that was up for a zone change at the recent Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 4, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The developers have countered that the view of the townhomes would be buffered by single-family homes in front of them along 200 West and also mentioned that the townhomes could bring more affordable housing to the city. 

At the Oct. 21 council meeting where several residents spoke against the move to high-density,  the council wavered between outright rejecting the developer request and accepting a compromise before they ultimately requested the developers to return with a compromise of their own. 

In the Oct. 21 meeting, Scow said opting for the 7,500 medium density would make it impossible for him to build the townhomes because he said the layout of the land was too complex for that. On Thursday, he presented a plan that retained the same number of townhomes but increased the single-family lots in front of the townhomes to the same 7,500-square footage of those on the neighboring property – reducing the number of single-family homes from 17 to 10. 

Council member Derek Larsen called it “a quandary,” citing the fact that the landowner wants to make money off their land and the residents next to the land say their views would be further restricted.

“I’m more for striking a balance,” Larsen said.

Fellow council member Sue Gordhammer said she would be making her decision based on the city’s general plan, which calls for encouraging development that preserves a sense of neighborhood, rural lifestyle, natural beauty and low-profile housing.

Developer Reed Scow listens in during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 4, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

With that, Gordhammer indicated the developer’s adjustment wasn’t enough, and that she felt the same way she did at the last meeting. 

“I understand the complexities,” she said, “but our responsibility sits with the general plan, not the complexity of the property.”

As discussion ensued on just which options the developer could use to try to find a middle ground between low and high-density, City Manager Dale Coulam put the council more in its lane.

“Our role is to not develop a property and specify a design,” he said. “It’s to determine the density. “

After it appeared that the sentiment of council members was to either accept the middle-density reduction or no rezoning at all, the developer-neighbor quandary once again came into play as the council voted. 

After council members Larsen and Gordhammer voted for the amended zoning and Jenny Johnson and McDonald voted no, it was left to council member Dennis Mehr to break the tie. 

With a hand on his forehead, approximately five minutes passed while Mehr audibly conducted an internal debate on which way to go. Part of Mehr’s external monologue was whether there was a third alternative that would still work for all parties. Then he was considering whether to pick a choice at all.

Council member Dennis Mehr during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 4, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“If I abstain, does the mayor get to do it?” Mehr asked of the rarely evoked rule where the usually nonvoting mayor votes to break a tie.

To that, Coulam jokingly used a colorful metaphor to describe such a move as being cowardly.

“It was to have the mayor vote,” Mehr joked in response to try to break the tension. “That’s the only reason.”

After another minute, Mehr gave the last yes vote for passage.

“This makes it easier, because I wouldn’t have voted for it either,” Hart replied. 

During the debate, Hart noted that the number of lots that have 1-acre zoning as placeholders are causing the problem, something that was also brought up by Larsen in his previous calls for the city to reexamine the existing zones throughout the city. 

It the same kind of problem the developer said had caused him problems purchasing land designed to be zoned for one-acre parcels until a developer purchases it and resubmits zoning to the council.

“The demand for acre lots is not existent,” Hart said. “If we say you can do anything with the zoning, we’re essentially telling any property owner that you’re going to be in a position where there’s no market.”

Along the lines of zoning, on Thursday the council also created a future agenda item to institute a six-month moratorium on any rezoning while they consider reforms to the city zoning and putting some reins on growth. The agenda item came at the request of council member Cheyne McDonald.

“It (the growth) needs to slow down somehow, and that’s the way to do it,” McDonald said during the meeting. “I’m not trying to stop development. … I want to get us in a direction where we do a reset.”

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

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