IVINS — The mayor of Ivins and members of the City Council say their hands have been tied by the Utah Legislature as far as being able to regulate how homes look in their community.
A piece of legislation that passed with little fanfare or opposition in the state legislature in March – HB 406 Land Use, Development, and Management Act Modifications – prohibited cities from making rules on design elements of housing developments such as color, style of roof and exterior or fencing requirements.
While legislators and Gov. Spencer Cox said at the time the move was to reduce regulatory hurdles and allow for more needed housing to be built in the state, Ivins Mayor Chris Hart and members of the Ivins City Council say it is an affront to attempts to keep a certain aesthetic in their city.
Until now, Ivins has had rules that the exteriors of new homes couldn’t be too bright and should go with the red mountain landscape. Other design requirements, city officials say, have played a role in giving the area its desert/adobe landscape look.
Hart, a developer and former president of the Utah Home Builders Association, said the move by the state Legislature is pro-developer and creates an “anything goes” attitude toward the look of new homes in Ivins and other local cities.
“I’m a developer. That’s been my 55-year career. And I have got to tell you, I am so offended by what this developer-dominated, real estate-dominated state Legislature has done to the rights of cities,” Hart said. “My question back to them is, ‘So is it worth destroying the character of the communities in this state?’ Their attitude is, ‘Get the hell out of the way. Let a developer come in and build whatever he wants or she wherever they want, and have the city not able to say really very much about it.’”
Hart’s comments came as the City Council unanimously passed 4-0, with council member Dennis Mehr absent, revisions to its zoning ordinances to help it comply with the new state law.
Hart and other city officials say cities have lost their control “of everything” as far as regulating how new homes look in the community except for height and light pollution.
During a public comment portion of the meeting prior to the vote, resident James Barden asked that the city require applicants asking for a zone change to include a development plan. Groups of vocal residents in both Ivins and nearby Santa Clara have protested what they say are attempts by developers to “destroy” the aesthetic of the two cities.
But Ivins City Manager Dale Coulam responded to Barden by saying as of January, it will be against state law for a city like Ivins to ask for any development plan from homebuilders.
“Within the next six months, there will be no such thing as a complex plan. The City Council will be completely out of the preliminary picture,” Coulam said during the meeting. “You’ll see my hands are tied.”
Added council member Adel Murphy: “We have to comply with the law, but it’s disheartening.”
While still complying with the state law, the council added a provision that any new high-density housing development must have 50% of the properties be owner-occupied – a way to avoid more short-term rentals. However, council member Mike Scott noted the new regulation should be applied to more housing.
Hart told St. George News after the meeting that all local cities will need to make changes to adjust to the new state law, though tourism-based cities like Ivins, Springdale and Moab will be more adversely affected as they are likely to have more design guidelines.
“You screwed all the cities. You just make life impossible for us as a mayor and city council to try and keep something special about this place,” Hart said, referring to the Legislature. “I think that they’ve betrayed the people of this state in what they’ve done. And the people don’t know it yet, but they’re going to figure it out.”
Other than some opposition comments in committee hearings, there was little opposition to HB 406 during the legislative session. It passed the Utah House 53-16 and the Senate 23-0 with the only no votes coming from Republicans. Rep. Rex Schipp was the only member among the eight local legislators to vote against it.
The legislation was presented as a way to decrease regulatory red tape and hurdles that many have said have gotten in the way of creating a more affordable supply of homes in the state. Cox has also said cities need to do more to remove hurdles toward more housing.
“This is intended to reduce regulations to increase the supply of homes,” the sponsor of the bill – Rep. Stephen Whyte, R-Mapleton – said during floor debate on Feb. 17.
While noting that he has issues with the legislation “limiting what cities can do,” Scott told St. George News that on the positive side, some of the streamlining to home building regulations is “just fine.”
“Some of what they’re doing is just good practical streamlining, but basically what they’re trying to do is simplify the process for more development rather than let cities decide where they want to go,” Scott said.
But Hart said despite any good intentions, the bill as passed was ultimately skewed more toward developers than those needing an affordable home.
“I was the president of the state Home Builders Association and we had no representation back in the day. Now there’s all this representation, we’ve bought our way through elections,” Hart said. “We’ve put up enough signs and paid for enough ads to get enough developers in the state Legislature that it’s an extension of the state Home Builders Association.”
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