David Rodeback's Blog

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Monday, August 7, 2006
Why the Carson Properties on 900 West Should Remain Residential

As to substance, I see merit on both sides of the question. As to tactics, I think the side which has played dirty should lose on that basis alone.

The American Fork City Council has a pair of action items on tomorrow evening's meeting agenda related to the use of land near 900 West and 700 North. These items have been a great deal more controversial than you might think, if you just saw them on the agenda, or if you read a recent article in the American Fork Citizen, which doesn't seem as fond of local controversy as most of the DTM. (See my new key to common abbreviations by clicking on the DTM link.) It's time to revisit them here. (My initial visits were parts of articles here and here.)

The basic issue is that a certain piece of land is now zoned residential, but its resale value to the owners is much higher -- reportedly, several million dollars against about two million -- if it's zoned commercial and can be developed accordingly. (Actually, it's commercial value is probably diminished if some of the land is used for a reasonable buffer between the commercial development and the residential area.) With that much money at stake, one can certainly understand why the owners would be fairly passionate and persistent about their right to do whatever they want with their land, because it's their land. On the other hand, municipalities have zoning at least in part to protect the rights of nearby property owners and to protect the quality of life in the community.

On the substance of the matter, I think the neighbors' concerns are legitimate. But I also think it makes sense that the land be developed commercially, and long as there is a generous buffer between it and the residential neighborhood. It's across the street from a CostCo, after all.

But here's why I think the City Council should reject the proposed zoning change (as, in fact, the Planning Commission finally recommended). It's really a matter of style.

On one hand, the owners have used intimidation, deception, and threats in an ongoing attempt to neutralize the opposition. They went as far as obtaining a copy of the petition the neighbors submitted and angrily visiting some of the signers. Moreover, a fairly senior local LDS Church leader, who (at least theoretically) has an indirect financial interest in the outcome, used his pulpit to tell his neighbors to mind their own business and let the owner get what he wants -- perhaps a mistake made in the passion of the moment, but in any case a misuse of his authority.

On the other hand, many of the neighbors have organized, offered public comments, signed a petition, written many intelligent and respectful letters to decision makers, attending meetings and hearings, and so forth. They've even been more philosophical than I am about their being treated rudely by some City officials at a Planning Commission meeting.

So which model of democracy do you prefer? I know which one I choose.

With merits on both sides of the substantive question, I think the owners have earned a resounding defeat, for the same reason that you don't negotiate with terrorists or yield every time a child throws a tantrum: If their tactics work this time, they or others will try them again soon enough. If they fail, perhaps they or someone else will learn a valuable lesson about proper and improper ways for seeking political change in a civilized society.

David Rodeback comments (8/8/06):

After hearing two members of the City Council relate the substance of their extensive recent discussions with a variety of high-profile developers and commercial realtors about the commercial merits of the Carson property, it no longer makes as much sense to me that it should be commercial. The issue is now decided, not in the Carsons' favor, and I'm now thinking that was the proper decision on the merits, too, not just because of dishonorable tactics on one side. I can't recount all the details, but I heard the Carson team's many arguments why it has to be commercial, and several other major developers disagreed with all of them, or nearly all.

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