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Riverton Meadows residents rally to block rezone proposal

Apr 03, 2022 05:20PM ● By Michael J. Jewkes

Riverton City Council sees record attendance to council meeting in effort to deny rezone. (Michael Jewkes/City Journals)

By Michael J. Jewkes | [email protected]

“This is how government is meant to work,” Councilmember Troy McDougal said while looking proudly at the group of Riverton residents who came to voice their opinion at last month’s first city council meeting over a proposed rezone in Riverton Meadows.

In January, Riverton resident Josh Thomas filed an application with the city to rezone his corner lot in the semi-rural Riverton Meadows subdivision from R-1, or estate density residential, to R-4, or medium density residential. The rezone was unanimously denied by the City Council.

The property in question is a corner lot located at 3444 W. 12350 S. in Riverton’s District 2, represented by McDougal. Nearby residents and neighbors banded together under the leadership of Sam and Kara Jensen, Andrew and Hannah Peltier and Troy Anderson.

“We did door to door, stuck stuff on mailboxes, [and] sent emails out to people,” Sam Jensen told the City Journals. This small group of concerned neighbors did not hesitate to jump into action after word of the rezone proposal reached the streets.

What Jensen calls “weeks of work” paid off as hundreds of residents piled into the city council chambers last month sporting red stickers which read “Keep Riverton Meadows R-1”. With every seat in the chambers filled, stragglers were forced to view the hearing in standing room only. The rezone hearing was one of the first items on the agenda.

“This is probably record attendance,” Mayor Trent Staggs said as he watched resident after resident try to find a place to sit.

Thomas submitted the rezone application hoping to ”subdivide [the] lot into three lots…” Thomas, the legal owner of the property, told the City Journals, “There certainly was a lot of attention and energy around my application.” The proposed rezone, nicknamed the ‘Thomas Rezone,’ was filed with intentions of leaving the existing home, and to simply add two more. Thomas’ 1.29-acre rezone application faced intense opposition from other residents and city councilmembers alike.

According to Sam Jensen, one of the opposition effort’s organizers, Thomas could theoretically build up to 4 to 5 homes. “R-4 zoning would allow up to 5 [homes].”

McDougal opposed the rezone by saying that such rezones were “…stealing away a right of private enjoyment.”

Thomas was absent at the hearing but agreed to speak with the City Journals following the council’s decision. “I had zero interest in changing anybody’s rights,” Thomas said, shocked at the participation from residents to fight the single-property rezone.

Thomas, a mortgage broker in the Salt Lake area, said “I was just looking for different opportunities...[and] this would be an interesting opportunity.” Responding to the intense disapproval from Riverton residents at a public meeting weeks earlier with the Planning and Zoning Division, Thomas attempted to withdraw his application prior to the city council meeting where the rezone would be voted on, but city staff would not return his phone calls or voicemails.

“I had no idea I was changing everyone else’s property rights.” Thomas said. After seizing an opportunity to build two houses behind the existing house on the property, Thomas learned he needed to apply for a rezone changing the R-1 to an R-4 designation to build two other units. Regarding zoning designations, Thomas is inexperienced. “I don’t know R-1 to R-4…I don’t have any idea what any of those mean,” Thomas said.

The single 1.29-acre plot, though seemingly insignificant, represents a larger issue. The proposed rezone comes at a time when the supply of housing hovers around all-time lows and demand hovers around all-time highs.

This housing crisis is nothing new to Riverton, however. With recent passing of bills regarding housing in the State Legislature, the city council has looked at how the issue will look in Riverton in the near future.

In October of 2019, the Planning and Zoning Division of Riverton City published a report on moderate income housing in the city. The report was conducted by Zions Public Finance Inc. to investigate future housing options for moderate income residents in Riverton. The report indicated a “shortage in supply of 1,442 affordable units...” as well as “…a need of 2,201 affordable housing units by 2024.”

SB34, an affordable housing bill passed by the Utah State Legislature, offered a list of recommendations to cities including to “rezone for densities necessary to assure the production of moderate-income housing.” The 2019 report recommended instead to “Plan for smaller single-family housing units in a medium-density residential (6+ units per acre) development…” thus focusing rezones for entire developments rather than existing semi-rural neighborhoods.

With such shortages in housing in the city, rezone proposals have become a common occurrence in recent years. Many have been shot down and openly opposed by residents like Jensen who say “There’s plenty of land, just not in Riverton Meadows, for that purpose.” Jensen understands the reality of the current housing crisis saying in regard to higher density housing projects, “We are not opposed to [it], just not in our development.”

Troy Anderson, another organizer, summed up his group’s argument in a speech addressing the city council. “The semi-rural life is not for everyone. It is not everyone’s idea of solitude and peace…but it is ours. Today, our dream and way of life is threatened by approaching developers who do not value the semi-rural life that our residents enjoy.”

Jensen fears such rezones and developments would cause them to “…lose our neighborhood as we know it today,” further stating that new residents that are not accustomed to the semi-rural lifestyle would complain and change the neighborhood and lifestyle of folks like himself and his family.

The Jensen’s efforts to block the rezone also included a massive emailing campaign with several emails and communications from residents to the Zoning and Planning Division expressing distrust of the Thomas Rezone prior to the hearing last month.

Thomas defended his idea to subdivide the property citing the histories of other parts of the Salt Lake Valley that have since been developed from semi-rural areas like the Taylorsville/Bennion area where he grew up. “You can’t fight it…what you can do is guide it,” Thomas said.

Like all rezone proposals, a presentation was given by city government staff regarding the proposal and the property in question along with a staff recommendation. Led by the Development Services Director Jason Lethbridge, city staff recommended the city council deny the zoning change.

The council agreed, with McDougla motioning to deny the ordinance, a move unanimously supported by the council.