Thursday, January 26, 2006

Moratorium Solution - NOT!

Last week the Planning Commission, by a vote of 6-1, recommended that the County Council adopt the Planning Department’s "Option 3" (of 8 or so), modified to 25 acres to "solve" the problems of open space and growth.

This proposed amendment to Title 16 (Land Use Code) does nothing to slow growth of development - it may actually increase the number of houses that can potentially be built in the unincorporated County.

The avowed purpose of "Zoning" is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. A group of citizens have called for an interim zone change to RA-5, (possibly with a Planned Performance Development which will reduce - not increase - potential housing construction) while a deliberate study is done to revisit the General Plan of 2001 (as required by that plan) and present a considered, thoughtful solution to the potential growth potential and to attempt to retain what the residents have expressed a continuing desire for - a rural, small town with open space.

Much in the wording of the overall proposal is excellent. The description of "Rural Landscape Character" was generally well conceived. The proposal of how to protect open space through various ownership and easement arrangement is well done. However, the devil is in the details.
What’s wrong with Option 3, and basically the whole array of proposed options? At one point of time Wasatch County required 200 ft. frontage on county road, and that lots could be only "subdivided" once.
  1. This new proposal will apparently allow anyone over a lot of two acres or more to subdivide further. I will readily admit, that although I have studied the two inch thick Title 16 and the one inch General plan, there be some proviso that may be limiting.
  2. Under the proposal, "property less than 25 acres" . . . with sewer, will allow one Dwelling Unit per acre, on lots as small as 1/3 acre. (About 100 feet by 140 feet) (Variable lot sizes, with no more than 25% of each size.) For example, 6 lots at 1/3 acre, 6 at 2/3, 6 at ½ , and 7 at 1 acre on a 25 acre parcel. This is defined as a "Standard Subdivision."
  3. If the total parcel size is greater than 25 acres, a developer may, by leaving 50% in open space, build 1 unit per "buildable acre" on lots as small as the 1/3 acre. So, with 100 acres, 75 houses (not 100) may be built (because of the "buildable acre" concept)
  4. The Planning Commission voted to retain the "Transition Zone" - the potential "annexation" areas around the incorporated (It had been proposed to delete it). This provides a "bonus" of 25% more houses, by meeting certain criteria.
    It doesn’t take too much analysis to figure out that by dividing a piece of land into parcels of less than 25 acres that you will be allowed to build MORE houses AND proclaim that open space is being preserved, merely by putting houses on smaller lots.

Further subdivision of your current home’s lot At the PC meeting, a list was presented of the various lot sizes currently in the RA 1 zone. It was indicated that there were 335 lots of 5 -10 acres, and it was explained that some currently have homes on the lot. The impression given was that a lot, with a home, on 10 acres, under this proposal, could be further subdivided as noted in #2 above. For example, a home on 10 acres (335 of them, ‘many’ with houses) could carve out a 2 acre parcel for the current owner and build 8 more homes on the remaining property (10 more if within the TROZ)

I sincerely hope that this interpretation is incorrect, but I see little in the law to preclude this. This is part of the reason to slow down and think about this whole proposed change. Find out what the County residents truly desire for our valley; and determine what is best for the health, safety and welfare of the community, as a whole, not for a group of land holders.

Administrative vs. Legislative Acts If you’ve read this far, congratulations, this will surely put you to sleep. There are two types of land use acts. Basically, with an Administrative Act (e.g Standard Subdivision) there is little discretion in approving a subdivision. If the law allows it - must be approved. I believe the "less the 25 acre" proposal will fall into this category.
A Legislative Act (e.g Planned Unit or Performance Development - PUD) allows the county a little more discretion in approving developments. Particular criteria, generally will be "reasonably debatable to further the general welfare," must be met for approval. A PUD will allow more input into developments and allow the discretion afforded under Legislative Acts, if that is what is desired. Otherwise why not just eliminate zoning, and let the ‘market’ work? The answer, of course, is that we DO have zoning and with it certain expectations that the zoning has created. If one buys a rural piece of land in a low density zone, it should be a rational expectation that the surrounding area will be kept rural and low density.

I’m certain that corrections will be forthcoming for any errors expressed here, as they were for the idea that Wasatch was growing at 15% annual growth. While Wasatch is one the fastest growing counties in the nation, that should have been a 15% growth in three years, or 4-5 % annually. In actuality the rate is not all that relevant, the potential for growth IS. This also serves as an excellent example of why it is desirable to study, consider and deliberate, before making the very important decisions. I do not proclaim to have all of the knowledge or all the answers, I do have questions and I do have a concern for the direction we are heading - Wasatch City!!!

If you have similar concerns, this is not the time to rest on your apathetic laurels and trust that your elected representatives will protect you, and your county, from "unprecedented growth pressure in the form of multiple large scale subdivisions applications and corresponding loss of agricultural use, open space and rural atmosphere." (Moratorium Ordinance 05-11) Your action is required because "zoning regulations in the RA-1 zone are currently inadequate to protect this valuable asset (rural atmosphere, open space and agricultural feel)" (05-11) Please Contact the County Council and express your opinion.

A Public Hearing will be held on February 1, your input is needed. Amidst cries of "elitist" and "anti-people" and "you trying to keep my children for living here," I remain a cry in the wilderness (rural, of course) to what is coming. Don’t say you have not been warned as you wait through the fifth stoplight change to turn left. I think developers will love this plan; I hope the only thing left is not the 10,000 plastic cows to maintain the rural facade.

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