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Business community could push for change to referendum laws

January 25, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The battle over a proposed development in an upscale Salt Lake City suburb could affect residents’ power to challenge zoning decisions on the ballot amid fears of an affordable housing crisis.

A recently filed bill would make technical changes to state law, but Utah’s business community might push for broader changes that could affect what decisions are eligible for the ballot, the Deseret News reported this week.

Residents of Holladay placed a referendum on the ballot last year, challenging the city’s approval of the Cottonwood Mall housing development.

Developer Ivory Homes planned to build 775 high-rise apartments, more than 200 homes and dozens of shops and restaurants on a 57-acre (23 hectare) site. Voters rejected the project, and the developer took the matter to court.

The Utah Supreme Court upheld the vote, but the developer is continuing with its challenge, arguing the state’s highest court misunderstood its arguments.

Republican State Rep. Brad Daw has proposed legislation that he says would clarify “ambiguity” in voter referendum law.

“We have a very inconsistent process that nobody really likes, and we want to have a clear, straightforward process,” the Orem Republican said. “We want to give cities their fair shake, petitioners their fair shake, and (write a law) so everybody knows the rules.”

The legislation would require cities or counties to declare an action is eligible for a referendum before signatures are gathered. It would also allow cities or counties to submit a written argument against the referendum. Under current law, cities are not allowed to use taxpayer resources to advocate for or against a referendum.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns supports the proposed changes to the referendum law, said Cameron Diehl, the organization’s executive director.

“Utah’s population is set to double in the next 25 years, so there is going to be a tremendous amount of attention about how we grow and how do we redevelop areas and how we integrate transportation and housing and all other types of land use so we grow in a smart way,” Diehl said.

A group of Utah business leaders said Daw’s bill doesn’t go far enough. Developers and other have voiced concern that referendums could create added hurdles for developers aiming to increase the state’s housing stock. Leaders at the Salt Lake Chamber indicated they planned to lobby the state Legislature for changes.

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Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com

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