Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Zoning Along 900 West: Top Ten Myths

Item 3 on Tuesday's City Council agenda, "Review and action on an amendment of the Land Use element of the General Plan for the area adjacent to 900 West between 450 North and 750 North," will be the most controversial item I have seen in all the years I have been monitoring these things.

Controversy tends to bring out people's emotional sides, and emotions often cloud fact. This is one reason why the Council tabled this item for two weeks, sending it back to the Planning Commission with a request for a more conclusive recommendation and better information.

Tonight we will vote, but before we do, I take this opportunity -- for my own benefit as much as anything -- to correct the misinformation that has crossed my desk.


10. "It's my property and I can do what I want with it." Actually, property owners may only develop land within the limits of its zone. From the time of the industrial revolution, our country has allowed cities, through zoning laws, to group compatible land uses together. As a result, all development must conform with the city's general plan, which is written by our city planners, adopted by the City Council, and overseen by the Planning Commission and City Council. So the landowner may only do as he pleases if his land use conforms with the general plan. We do, from time to time, make changes to the general plan. This area is a case in point. Right now, no commercial activity is allowed here. Commercial could only be allowed if the City Council voted to approve the zone change, and that will only be done if the Council determines that the requested change is "necessary to the promotion of the health, safety, morals, convenience or general welfare of the public."

9. "It's either commercial or high-density residential." False. The Planning Commission has repeatedly denied any validity to the idea that American Fork City would allow multi-family housing in this area of town. The highest that could happen is R-2 (twin homes), and these would only be accepted if needed to buffer the transition from a commercial zone to the existing low-density residential area.

8. "If 900 West remains in residential zoning, 500 North will go through." The fear is that 500 North will be opened on to 900 West, and this will become a thoroughfare for Costco traffic. But the question of 500 North is not related to this zoning question. The larger issue of traffic through this northwest neighborhood also includes questions about 600 North going through to 900 West; about pushing 1120 North through to 900 West; and about opening 540/560 West to Pacific Drive. It all needs to be part of a larger traffic study that the Council will consider funding. But none of it will be decided tonight.

7. "Residential dwellings will bring more traffic to the neighborhood than a commercial zone. " Not true, according to guidelines used by the planning department. Trips generated by Costco are expected to number about 6,000 daily. Contrast this to 30 new homes (10 acres multiplied by the current zoned density of 3 units per acre), which, in suburbia, typically generate 12 trip ends per day. 30 x 12 = 360. Far fewer than 6,000.

6. "Approve office space and American Fork will attract more high-end restaurants." But I am told that thirteen percent of our office space is currently unoccupied -- a high number for this market. It won't help to oversupply the market.

5. "We need more commercial retail to support our tax base." The hope here is that we can avoid future tax increases to our residents if we have more retail. But we already have more retail than we can fill. Only sixty percent of the space at the Meadows is developed; 62 prime Meadows acres are still being peddled in the national marketplace. We have 1,000,000 square feet of empty commercial near the 500 East interchange. Our downtown district is showing empty storefronts. There's plenty of commercial space to meet the demand. And, in fact, commercial demand only increases in proportion with new rooftops. We actually need more rooftops before our demand will meet the current commercial supply.

4. "If we don't get these national retailers here, they'll go to Lehi or PG, and so will their sales tax." Not true. The Meadows is the one and only place to be right now, and will be for the foreseeable future. Google an aerial map of the area and you'll see how our unique mix of traffic patterns and population explosion make this THE place. Then go check out that new strip mall at the Pleasant Grove interchange. It's empty.

3. "Commercial will bring a higher sales price to the seller." Actually, once we provide the necessary buffering between the commercial development and the neighboring homes, the marketable percentage of that property goes way down -- enough to make the $300,000 per acre residential price look very attractive.

2. "The highest and best use of the land is commercial." "Highest and best" is the subjective standard planners apply to land use decisions. But it does not refer to sales price. "Highest and best" is a situational standard. In the Meadows, "highest and best" is clearly commercial. But how, in a neighborhood well appointed with churches, schools, and parks, can there be a higher or better use for land than a family home?

1. "It's just a bunch of Relief Society sisters opposing the commercial zoning." I have never seen more professional conduct or a more thorough approach to research than what the concerned northwest neighbors have shown. If Relief Society is where they learned this, then there's another reason for me to be proud of my own membership in the largest and oldest women's organization in the world.


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