This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Legislators on Capitol Hill are fond of saying local control is best. But when it comes to Salt Lake City, some lawmakers seem to forget the mantra.
City officials want to make nice with Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, because his proposed legislation would override municipal ordinances and render the creation of new local historic districts far more difficult. They hope to persuade the Davis County developer to dial back his proposed restrictions.
There is little doubt his bill is aimed at Salt Lake City, according to city officials. Nonetheless, during the Salt Lake City Council's legislative update last week, Wilson's bill, HB223, was not discussed publicly. City leaders apparently were attempting to keep the dispute out of the news, giving the Kaysville legislator who also led the commission that picked Salt Lake City as the site of the new state prison time to rethink outside the glare of public scrutiny.
Still, HB223 is awaiting debate in the full House after passing out of the House Business and Labor Committee 10-0 last week.
It is the third attempt in five years by state legislators to codify restrictions on historic preservation, said Kirk Huffaker, executive director of the Utah Heritage Foundation. The proposal is not only bad for Salt Lake City, he said, but for all communities seeking to preserve their history.
Kaysville, for example, also has a number of historic structures.
The Legislature's meddling in Salt Lake City's business is nothing new, said Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall.
"Our current [historic preservation] ordinances are the outcome of a previous dance with the Legislature," she said. "But that doesn't seem to have satiated their appetite for [oversight] of Salt Lake City."
In 2011, the Legislature, led by now Senate-President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who is a developer, slapped a moratorium on the creation of new local historic districts after residents of Salt Lake City's Yalecrest pushed City Hall for such a designation.
The Yalecrest grass-roots groundswell came in reaction to homes being replaced with monstrous residences, such as the "Garage Mahal," which stuck out like a sore thumb in the quaint neighborhood.
At the same time, property-rights advocates in the area said they didn't want restrictions on their homes, so they could modify or expand them.
In fall 2012, the council, with input from those east-side residents, crafted an ordinance that would allow for the creation of small local historic districts. It mandated that at least 15 percent of the property owners in a designated area agree to put it to a vote. A simple majority of at least 51 percent of participating voters would determine whether the area became a local historic district.
In 2014, five petitions were filed at City Hall. All five were approved by the Historic Landmark and Planning commissions. But two fell short of the required 51 percent popular support: the Upper Yale Addition on 1100 South between 1700 East and 1800 East and the Upper Yale 2nd Addition on Herbert Avenue (1055 South) between 1700 East and 1800 East.
Wilson believes that process too easily abridges personal property rights. His bill, by contrast, would mandate that 33 percent of property owners agree to put such a measure to a vote. At least 67 percent of all property owners rather than just participating voters would have to vote yes to create a local historic district, according to the legislation.
Wilson told fellow lawmakers he wants to ensure that homeowners understand what they are voting for regarding historic districts. "There is no real process to ensure that people know what they are signing and what the pros and cons of historic districts are," he said.
Under Salt Lake City's current ordinance, if a historic district fails, proponents can begin immediately to make another run, Wilson said. His bill would provide a four-year waiting period after a defeat of a proposed district.
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Lisa Adams said she doesn't understand why Wilson would introduce such a bill.
"I'm puzzled by it," she said. "The Legislature talks about local control and then acts as though they don't want us to have local control."
The proposed legislation appears to be an effort to completely stop any local or grass-roots historic preservation, said Yalecrest area resident Kelly Marinan. "It seems undemocratic to say that two-thirds must approve it," she said. "It pretty much kills it."