A meeting called to reconcile differences between the City Council and the city's Planning Commission did little to resolve conflicts last week.
Instead, council members and commissioners continued to squabble over what they consider to be an outdated city master plan and archaic city ordinances that are providing little guidance in dealing with a flood of development proposals.Frustration over what they perceive as a lack of City Council support has prompted two members of the commission to run for election to the city's governing body.
"We've tried hard to set a character for West Jordan through the planning we've done," said Michael Coe, a planning commissioner who's campaigning for a council seat. "I feel that has been eroded by the City Council."
Most council members and planning commissioners agree more definitive guidelines are needed, especially since most zoning and development ordinances predate the current development craze. Both groups also recognize a need for more specific plans in areas given vague designations when the master plan was created several years ago.
Commission decisions are advisory to the council and therefore subject to appeal by unhappy developers. When those appeals succeed, commissioners feel they come out looking cruel or difficult to work with, and they argue that the council appears inconsistent.
"Planning commissions in other cities - like Sandy - know that when they go out on a limb they're going to have the support of the council and senior staff," said planning commissioner Michael DeMass. "I want to see more confidence given to our commission."
DeMass is using the conflict in his campaign for a City Council seat left empty by Wayne Harper, the city's new director of economic development. His decision to run for election to the City Council came as he grew increasingly frustrated with overturned commission decisions.
Coe has served on the Planning Commission for five years. He, too, is frustrated with the council's decisions and said he can help redirect the city as part of the City Council.
"They have overlooked the needs and wants of the city in favor of development," said Coe of the council. "They listen more to developers than residents."
Council members take exception to those claims.
"I don't look at my role as to support you," Councilman Brian Pitts told Planning Commission members. "I'm an elected representative of the people."
Terry Holzworth, chairman of the master plan committee, blames the problem on the out-of-date ordinances. "We've got to go back and fix the underlying document so we can interpret it the same. Let's make the mechanism support what we do."
As the new director of economic development - a position created specifically to address the city's growth - Harper said he plans to restructure the way the city deals with developers. He hopes to correct interpretation problems by redesigning the economic de-vel-op-ment department and rewriting city ordinances.
"This is something we've got to get past," Harper said. "We've got to work together."