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Residents file referendum petition to get Mountain Green rezone on the ballot

May 15, 2023 10:14AM ● By Linda Petersen

Some Mountain Green residents are not taking a recent rezone by Morgan County of almost 45 acres west of the Old Highway Road and Cottonwood Canyon Road from agricultural to town center, lying down. 

The developer is seeking approval of a density of six residential units per acre for the site with commercial properties on the west end and town homes on the east. But Vance Bowman, Debra Mellott, Jared Barlow, Michael Wasuita, Brent Harm, Kristi Barlow and Jesse Archibald want county residents rather than the county commission to determine the future of that area, so they have filed a referendum petition asking that the issue go before voters in November.

When the rezone went before the Morgan County Planning Commission and then the county commission, 23 local residents filled the council chambers to have their say. Most of them were opposed to the rezone, saying the area was not ready for the problems the development planned for the site would bring. The planning commission even forwarded a recommendation to the county commission suggesting they deny the rezone. In the end, the commission still voted 4-1 to approve the rezone, citing the need for economic development in Morgan County.

The petitioners, Vance Bowman, Debra Mellott, Jared Barlow, Michael Wasuita, Brent Harm, Kristi Barlow and Jesse Archibald, filed the referendum petition on March 27. While it is uncommon for land use decisions to be decided at the ballot box, especially in Utah, it has been allowed under Utah code until recently. A new law, SB199, Local Land Use Amendments, now prohibits referral of a referendum to voters for municipal land use laws that passed by a unanimous vote of the local legislative body. In this case, Commissioner Matt Wilson cast the lone vote against the rezone, an action that appears to have allowed the petition to move forward.

In response to the referendum petition, Morgan County has produced a “proposition information pamphlet” outlining its position which it has posted on its website. Among the reasons Morgan County  gives in the pamphlet for not supporting the referendum is the county’s need for economic development and “significant residential development in and around the town center  in the area” to justify the proposed Mountain Green interchange. The approval is consistent with the county’s general plan, it says.

Since the property is “uniquely situated in terms of topography and location, being much lower than existing residences in the area,” the aesthetic impacts of ‘modestly higher residential density’ should be mitigated, it further states. “The town center zone approved for the property provides the highest level of county involvement available under the current county code. If, consistent with the general plan, the property is rezoned to another commercial district the county will have significantly less input in the way the property is developed.”

For their part, the seven residents dispute the premise that to have economic development Morgan County must have lots more households, one of the petitioners Brent Harm told the Morgan County News.

“The whole time I’ve lived in Mountain Green (seven years), everyone I know has been almost desperate for economic development,” he said. “We see the traffic going regularly through Morgan County, skiers in the winter, boaters/bicyclist sin the summer, by the thousands, and yet the county keeps saying ‘Oh we can’t support any businesses,’ so their plan is to bring thousands of rooftops to Mountain Green to double down on their failed policy in trying to fund county revenues through property tax.”

Harm said his group is being portrayed as anti-economic development but that that simply isn’t true.

“We’re really against the idea that the county should just develop residential,” he said. “We know development is coming and we actually want it. We want to see responsible, limited development instead of just exploitation of Mountain Green for as much as they can get out of it before the developer pulls up stakes and goes to the next project.”

“We’re really concerned that it’s characterized as ‘Oh you guys are against development,’ — no, we’re not,” he said “We just don’t buy the assertion that you have to have thousands of rooftops before you can open a single business. There are towns all over America that are significantly smaller than Mountain Green that somehow manage to have businesses.”

If the referendum petition is successful, Harm said what’s important is to bring this issue to the public’s attention, regardless of the outcome. λ

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