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The City Journals

Voters could have final say on potential Walsh Farm development

Mar 26, 2019 03:12PM ● By Cassie Goff

Referendum sponsors are urging residents to sign a petition that would put a zoning decision on the ballot.

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

Even after a vote from the Cottonwood Heights City Council approving development on the property known as Walsh farm, the debate around the development is still ongoing, as a referendum has been filed to petition the vote and put the issue on this year’s ballot. 

(This story involves much prior development including the implementation of the planned district development (PDD) zoning, the planning of the proposed development (which is broadly an apartment complex), much public comment including emails and statements to the planning commission and city council from concerned residents, and many other ordinances and discussions concerning the property. For the full context on this story, please visit the previous stories linked or visit cottonwoodheightsjournal.com.)

City council vote

On Feb. 19, the city council approved Ordinance 317-A: the enactment of PDD-1 (Walsh) Zone, approving the re-zone of 5.9 acres of real property located at 6784 South and 1300 East from r-1-8 (single family residential) to PDD-1, and amending the zoning map.

The approved ordinance incorporated built-in language to require a public trail easement along the creek located on the property. The ordinance required the trail to be constructed, paved with concrete, asphalt, or crushed stone, which would be covered by an easement. Additional modifications included tree preservation requirements, fence height and mixed-use commercial requirements. 

“We are really excited that our family legacy will be preserved in this new publicly accessible creek-side path,” said Dave Walsh. “This section of the creek was previously off limits on our private property but now it will be shared for all Cottonwood families to enjoy.” 

The vote was unanimous among Councilmember Scott Bracken, Councilmember Mike Shelton and Mayor Mike Peterson; Councilmember Christine Mikell and Councilmember Tali Bruce were absent.

“Mr. Walsh did note in 2005, when we did the general plan, this parcel was slated for multi-family development,” Bracken said prior to the vote. “Had it not been, I would have been of a different opinion now. Its immediate neighbor to the east has a higher density and height… I do feel this meets the PDD.” 

“Planning is one of those places where the Land Use Authority is required to abide by the standards set in the past,” Shelton said. “Mr. Walsh correctly articulated the facts. This development application complies with the standards we set. The land use applicant has the right to have that application approved. I appreciate that we have had a land use applicant who worked hard to find ways to comply even when their understanding was not in line and different from ours.”

Peterson showed his preference as he stated, “If it was under my control, I would make it a park. We don’t need or desire high-density compact developments in our city. I’m opposed to that and I admit that. I will watch very carefully to make sure the commitments are kept as far as access and traffic and setbacks.”

Referendum

Shortly after the vote, concerned residents filed an application for a referendum. As per the legal process, the city was required to do a fiscal analysis for the cost of the city on repealing the ordinance by March 19. 

“The main fiscal impact would be the election cost increase with the November election,” said City Attorney Shane Topham. 

After that, the sponsors of the referendum were required to compile packets including the ordinance, petition, verification pages and signature pages, and submit them to the city for approval. The sponsors were responsible for incurring the cost of preparing those packets. 

On March 4, the approved packets were returned to the sponsors, beginning the allowed time allotment to collect signatures. The sponsors must gather signatures equivalent of 35 percent of the 17,653 ballots cast for the last presidential election, within 45 days. In other words, over 6,000 signatures need to be gathered by April 15. Those signatures must come from residents of the city, who are over 18 years old, registered to vote, and have read through a copy of the entire ordinance attached to the packet. In addition, the sponsors are required to have a verifier (think equivalent of a notary) to watch every resident sign with knowledge that everything was done appropriately. 

On April 15, the sponsors should submit the gathered signatures, with verification pages, to Salt Lake County. The county then has to verify that every signature belongs to a resident who is over 18 and registered to vote. That process should take about one month. 

After that entire process, the referendum could either be escalated to the Utah Supreme Court, or the issue could end up on the ballot, or potentially both. 

Developers

The applicants of the approved development have been notified about the referendum and have been instructed not to proceed with construction until the process is completed. 

Petition

Sponsors of the referendum will be encouraging residents to sign the petition until April 15. Many residents have been sharing the website, Unite for CH, in efforts to get the thousands of signatures needed. 

“I think it needs to be kept in mind that this new land is not just for a high-density development, but it is for an unusually high-density development, and so we think Cottonwood Heights residents really should have the chance to vote on it. That is what the petition is all about,” said organizer for Unite for CH Jared Crocker. 

One of the main issues Unite for CH presents refers back to the night of the vote. Only three out of the five members of the voting municipal body were present. “That is not strong representation for such an important issue — especially after the city planning commission had recommended against the plan — and so this petition effort will rectify that by letting the people vote on the law before it goes into effect.” 

Additionally, supporters of the petition are wondering what this means for the PDD ordinance, as this is the first PDD to be approved. “It is valid to ask: do we really want to use it to approve larger-than-normally-allowed apartment complex, right alongside single-family homes? A precedent is being set for the whole city, and it makes sense that the city’s residents would get to vote in that situation.” 

City living

As of March 17, a new website has been reaching city residents, countering the position. CH Responsible Growth urges residents not to sign the referendum. It’s main claim is that the city needs responsible growth in the midst of the current state housing crisis, and the proposed development supports responsible growth. 

Property owners

The property in question is owned by numerous siblings of the Walsh Family. When they decided to sell their property, they were amazed by how much involvement arose from residents. The Walsh’s also grew weary by the lengthy process of getting their sale approved. “There were numerous hearings and tons of input from residents. All of that input really impacted the final project plan,” said Walsh.  

“Our family has always known this far corner of Cottonwood Heights is ideal for apartments and condos,” Walsh said, noting the property is surrounded by apartments. “It is close to the freeway, transit hubs, and commercial developments. It is half a block away from a six-lane highway in one direction and I-215 in the other direction. We never protested when the other developments went in around us because we understood this was the best place in our city for development.” 

City involvement

As for the city, city funds cannot be used to advocate one way or another. City staff and officials can discuss the fact that a referendum has been filed and provide factual information, but can’t discuss the issue further. In other words, residents should not expect much communication on the part of the city pertaining to the petition.  

For more information, visit  www.uniteforch.com; www.chresponsiblegrowth.net; www.cottonwooheights.utah.gov and search for PDD; and/or www.cottonwoodheightsjournal.com and search for “Working with developers on newly created districts” or “What to do with Walsh farm?”