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Thread: Zoning battle in Utah

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Zoning battle in Utah

    This link is to an excellent article from the Deseret News about a zoning issue in Utah. http://deseretnews.com/dn/print/1,14...155327,00.html
    The speaker of the house in Utah is considering introducion legislation to require more justification for zoning decisions. An excerpt from the article:

    Under the Curtis-Harper notion, cities would have to give much more justification for zoning decisions. If a city couldn't give specific reasons why a property owner's development was "detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the community," it shouldn't be banned, they say.
    Appearantly he (Curtis) was denied for a proposed rezoning and believes "the city had no legitimate reason not to grant the request." And in the absence of such, the rezoning request should be approved.
    Later in the article, planning consultant Charles Buki has an interesting comment about the zoning process:

    Buki, who is Virginia-based, favors good planning processes but concedes zoning is "probably not the most perfect tool in the 21st century. . . . The zoning process is a poor forum to hash out the debate" between developers looking at short-term profits and city officials who want long-term stability.
    Topics of discussion:
    1. Would an increased standard, a "burden of proof", help cities have better plans and better zoning? (Raising the bar causes better performance) Or discourage them from trying for fear of losing in court? (Raising the bar causes fear of failure)
    2. Is the rezoning process (for a specific development, not city or area wide) a poor forum for debate and decisionmaking? If so, what should professional planners (public and private) do about it?
    JOE ILIFF
    ________________________________________________________________________
    Debt is normal . . . Be weird!
    Dave Ramsey

    "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Curtis is an idiot. Only in Utah can such an ass be elected. To exemplify the type of guy he is, last legislative session there was a bill that dealt with funding for rape crises centers, and he actually said that the only women who get raped are those who are out doing immoral things to begin with and that people shouldn't have such sympathy for him, much less provide public money to help them "get over it".

    My guess is that there will be some reform. But I think it will be along the lines of the City must establish, by ordinance, reasons for justifying a zoning decision (suprise Mr. Curtis, we do that already) and that it will be pretty easy to back up. He fails to see the main point of having different zoning districts is to provide a variety of housing options, which has been justified in many decision of the courts.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Boru's avatar
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    Topics of discussion:
    1. Would an increased standard, a "burden of proof", help cities have better plans and better zoning? (Raising the bar causes better performance) Or discourage them from trying for fear of losing in court? (Raising the bar causes fear of failure)
    2. Is the rezoning process (for a specific development, not city or area wide) a poor forum for debate and decisionmaking? If so, what should professional planners (public and private) do about it?
    [/QUOTE]

    Joe,
    In my opinion zoning and the ability to have one's land rezoned removed reasonable thought from most men. The enormous profits which a rezoning can bring, almost overnight to land is such that lobbying politicians to rezone land for development almost always takes precedent to reasoned thinking or in depth debate.

    The problem which perpetuates this is that Local Authorities and Planners themselves seem unwilling to advocate another form of forward planning/development control. I would submit that the most basic and lazy levels of thinking go into zoning based development plans. This can be for several reasons, but is usually down to the fact that Local Authorities may not have the money to implement a new form of development planning. It must also be admitted that it is down to a lack of fresh ideas from planners who should be considering retirement or retraining.

    From an Irish perspective, Local Authorities have to make a new development plan for their whole region every six years. The process to make a plan takes 2 years with 2-3 opportunities within those 2 years for members of the public to make zoning submissions. The planners draw up executive reports recommending or dismissing particular zonings. The County Councillors can take into account or ignore this advice, but generally they comply with planners advice. Occasionally they go loopy which results in too much land being rezoned for housing. Generally this is the only opportunity for rezoning over the course of the six years. It is very unusual for additional land to be rezoned by councillors after the development plan is made. It does happen, but in rare circumstances. A county Councillor would generally get a lot of stick from the general public for proposing his/her own land for rezoning but would probably hold onto their seat.

    Anyway back on the issue of zoning. My problem is that land rezoning in my country generally follows field patterns, allowing for fragmented development, and the promulgation of awkward, truncated housing developments with little or no permeability. A landowner will generally only look for their own land to be rezoned for a particular or most profitable type of development, and when such a zoning is granted, it allows for another piecemeal development to take place.

    Only once in my country was another form of development plan put forward. Cork County Council once produced a plan with a single zonings for large areas (for example the City Centre), objectives of varying degrees and importance were attached to specific areas. The zoning was so broad that it allowed almost everything but the most harmful uses. It was intended that the maket value of city centre land would be such that development would control itself (in terms of the uses). Each development was judged on its merits and compliance with the differing objectives. It seemed to work well but was a bit confusing. They reverted to the standard zoning types with their next plan rather than attempting to fine tune the new way of thinking. Boo.

    Either way zoning parcels of land without detailed masterplanning is a gradual incremental way of ensuring sprawled development.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Boru
    Joe,
    In my opinion zoning and the ability to have one's land rezoned removed reasonable thought from most men. The enormous profits which a rezoning can bring, almost overnight to land is such that lobbying politicians to rezone land for development almost always takes precedent to reasoned thinking or in depth debate.

    The problem which perpetuates this is that Local Authorities and Planners themselves seem unwilling to advocate another form of forward planning/development control. I would submit that the most basic and lazy levels of thinking go into zoning based development plans. This can be for several reasons, but is usually down to the fact that Local Authorities may not have the money to implement a new form of development planning. It must also be admitted that it is down to a lack of fresh ideas from planners who should be considering retirement or retraining.

    From an Irish perspective, Local Authorities have to make a new development plan for their whole region every six years. The process to make a plan takes 2 years with 2-3 opportunities within those 2 years for members of the public to make zoning submissions. The planners draw up executive reports recommending or dismissing particular zonings. The County Councillors can take into account or ignore this advice, but generally they comply with planners advice. Occasionally they go loopy which results in too much land being rezoned for housing. Generally this is the only opportunity for rezoning over the course of the six years. It is very unusual for additional land to be rezoned by councillors after the development plan is made. It does happen, but in rare circumstances. A county Councillor would generally get a lot of stick from the general public for proposing his/her own land for rezoning but would probably hold onto their seat.

    Anyway back on the issue of zoning. My problem is that land rezoning in my country generally follows field patterns, allowing for fragmented development, and the promulgation of awkward, truncated housing developments with little or no permeability. A landowner will generally only look for their own land to be rezoned for a particular or most profitable type of development, and when such a zoning is granted, it allows for another piecemeal development to take place.

    Only once in my country was another form of development plan put forward. Cork County Council once produced a plan with a single zonings for large areas (for example the City Centre), objectives of varying degrees and importance were attached to specific areas. The zoning was so broad that it allowed almost everything but the most harmful uses. It was intended that the maket value of city centre land would be such that development would control itself (in terms of the uses). Each development was judged on its merits and compliance with the differing objectives. It seemed to work well but was a bit confusing. They reverted to the standard zoning types with their next plan rather than attempting to fine tune the new way of thinking. Boo.

    Either way zoning parcels of land without detailed masterplanning is a gradual incremental way of ensuring sprawled development.
    Boru, thanks for the discussion.
    JOE ILIFF
    ________________________________________________________________________
    Debt is normal . . . Be weird!
    Dave Ramsey

    "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

  5. #5

    Zoning and Utah

    When Deseret News called about the proposed legislative efforts in Utah to curtail zoning I was not surprised. The sprawl up and down 15 is as bad as any in the country. The debate in Utah needs some clarity. First the effort by Curtis et al needs to be undressed and revealed for what it is: a veiled effort to remove public controls over real estate development activities that could and often do wind up hurting the greater good. Second, the debate needs to be reframed. Zoning is not the culprit causing or accelerated crummy development of the sort one finds in Layton or Kaysville or South Ogden or Provo; the absence of good planning combined with lousy consumer preference is. What I told Deseret News was that zoning is a tool and an imperfect one. Form-based codes, by contrast, keep the power to thwart poor development activity in the hands of the public while insisting on good master and sub area planning. You only get rid of traditional zoning if something better is waiting (form based codes, TND codes, or some such framework in the context of good land use planning). You don't get rid of zoning just to remove a development hurdle which is what uninformed people like Curtis seek. Finally, it is important to acknowledge that good planning, and good design are not sufficient antidotes for lousy taste. And in Utah, I'm afraid, things are about as ugly as anywhere in the country, which is unfortunate given the beauty of the land on which so much crap sits.

    Charles Buki

  6. #6
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Very interesting discussion, thanks everyone. I'm merely a second year student so I am not sure what I have to offer but I certainly am absorbing this. Especially this tidbit:

    Quote Originally posted by Boru
    In my opinion zoning and the ability to have one's land rezoned removed reasonable thought from most men. The enormous profits which a rezoning can bring, almost overnight to land is such that lobbying politicians to rezone land for development almost always takes precedent to reasoned thinking or in depth debate.
    My reaction to this is: ok, so how do we get that sort of coherence back in place of the current money mania? I can't see any way to do this without "infringing" on property rights (with a corresponding increase of a community's "rights"). A sort of community panel... one would hope it would be constructive and not petty ("My neighbour's proposed new garage threatens my quality of life!") given that all would be governed by it. I'm just throwing out ideas. What I generally am trying to define is something that is not systematic, as zoning is, but rather a process that begins anew with each case (while still referring to overall guiding documents such as an OCP).

    Any ideas?

  7. #7
    On the surface the request makes a lot of sense. If a regulation cannot be justified, it has no reason to exist. The potential to strangle a good project with too much regulation must be weighed against the protections that the regulation affords. If a regulation cannot be clearly justified, it must be repealed for everyone.

    The emphasis on everyone is important. A few people here claim that the rezoning will just fill the landowner's pockets with profit. This is true in that the rezoning creates a privilege for one landowner that others won't have a right too. That will translate into an exceptional opportunity to profit.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian The District's avatar
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    having just left provo a few months ago, and having interned for provo's community development department for a few months last year, i would say that buki has it right: this is a ploy to loosen the already weak land use controls in utah for the benefit of developers and at the long term expense of the community. yes, consumer preference is crappy, but it is also on the upswing. many non-planning-oriented citizens are starting to notice the lack of transportation/development integration, and concern is growing, and not just in a NIMBY type of way, about the future of the region. curtis' claims regarding land use are frequently half-true, or are only true for certain individuals, or only for certain periods of time. i believe that curtis' concepts can be struck down if the legislature is shown the LONG TERM effects of such a law. argh! what a great place to study planning.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    This is a hot topic amongst planners in Utah right now. Mr. Curtis is not considered by many to be a friend of planning. He is also a very powerful person in the state legislature. Our legislature is so conservative that there are not enough level headed people up there to see or understand the long term consequences of their decisions. It seems that putting the burden on the local governements contradicts the police power that legitimizes zoning in the first place, but I guess if the state wants to take that particular power away, they can.

    Utah is known for being a huge private property rights state and state legislators are very sympathetic to the cause when it comes to regulating private property. I am afraid that this is just another step the legislature is taking to eliminate planning at the local level.

    If the legislation is passed, I think that the response of cities will be to draft ordinances that are filled with technical and legal terms that will make it virtually impossible for most applicants to understand and also make it a longer, more drawn out process that it already is. The end result will not be a better, more developer friendly process, but a longer, more drawn out, and unfriendly process that will not change the quality of development.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    I'm glad this has gotten some discussion on the boards.

    I don't know that I'm comfortable with the idea that a developer is entitled to whatever zoning they want unless the jurisdiction can prove it should be something else. That doesn't seem to recognize the jurisdiction's police power, and responsibility to protect its citizens. And the proposal would seem to make it impossible to have zoning based on community character or aesthetics.

    But, requiring that cities and counties have to have explanable, understandable reasons for why they zone the way they do seems like a basic tenant of planning.
    JOE ILIFF
    ________________________________________________________________________
    Debt is normal . . . Be weird!
    Dave Ramsey

    "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

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