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It's a thin line that separates politics and zoning.

Reprising an issue hot in last fall's mayoral election, the city this week is in court against a sewer-service district that built an office-and-garage complex in a neigh-borhood that was supposed to have been off-limits to such development.And there's talk now of allowing local residents to vote in November to decide whether to raze the $2.5 million project.

"My guess is they wouldn't vote to tear it down," concedes Councilman Bryant Anderson, who represents the council district that includes the complex but says it's the principle of the thing that bothers him.

The Cottonwood Improvement District last year completed work on the 17,000-square-foot complex although an appeal to resolve the dispute had yet to be heard by the Utah Court of Appeals.

Construction under such circumstances angered many and was enough to help spawn a political shakeup.

Tom Dolan beat incumbent Larry Smith in last year's mayoral election in part because Smith alienated the residents around Visconti and Highland drives by allowing building permits to be issued to the district. Smith said he had little choice in the matter, but critics disagreed.

Dolan has used the pending court decision as a stick to beat the district into line on a number of cosmetic details, requiring it to put trees around the garage, add some other trimmings and prohibit workers from doing any truck maintenance at the site.

Manager Ralph Godfrey says the district also has agreed to spend $12,000 to put in curb and gutter on the north side of Visconti Drive and to widen the street as well.

"We've had not one single negative comment in the last month and a half," said Godfrey, noting earlier criticism that the complex was unsightly.

"It's extremely ugly, coming south to north along Highland," insists Dolan, who joins others in objecting to what they say is an uninspired cinderblock design.

The City Council voted 3-2 against the Planning Commission's approval of the project, but a judge threw the decision out, saying the council had no right overruling the commission. That's the issue before the appeals court this week.

There are other dimensions to the dispute.

Dolan said it points up what he thinks is an important flaw in local governance: Independent service district boards elected by a public only vaguely informed of the issues.

"Even when there's an election to these boards it's barely publicized," he said. "It's not something people care about and yet it's a taxing entity.

"There should not be these special-service district run by boards who aren't accountable to the public."

But voters are paying attention to this one.

One person on the three-member Cottonwood Improvement District's board of directors last year went down to defeat at the hands of a citizens group that opposed the complex.