Lehi voters emphatically rejected measures Tuesday that would have limited residential growth at 3 percent annually and allowed the city to build a $17 million community center.

The limited growth initiative sparked emotional debate and bitter conflict in this normally quiet Utah County town. Sponsors of the measure posted poll-watchers at each of the seven polling places after 5 p.m. Tuesday. The purpose, said sponsor Richard W. Smith, was to "keep the honest people honest."However, careful monitoring of ballot counting was not necessary. In complete but unofficial results, the initiative failed by a 2-1 margin. Its demise was apparently sealed by strong opposition from developers, Realtors and the City Council. Nevertheless, Smith was relatively pleased.

"I would say it's kind of a wake-up call to the new mayor and council that people (want them) to watch the growth a little more than they have in the past," he said.

However, Councilman Dee Ray Russon said the measure's failure shows that residents believe elected officials "work close to the pulse of the community and know what the community needs."

Russon said the city's master plan, which was finalized just nine months ago, needs to be given a chance to function. If passed, the initiative would have required the city to rework the master plan within six months. Despite the conflict it generated, the initiative effort did have some benefits even for those who opposed it.

"A healthy discussion about controlled growth is probably (good) because it forces people to think about their community," Russon said. He said the measure's failure is fortunate because the city will not be forced to increase its bureaucratic process for awarding building permits.

The proposed initiative would have forced the city to set up a new board to decide who would get the limited number of building permits. Also, Lehi would have had to create a process for property owners to contest decisions made about their bids for building permits. Russon said what the city needs now is time to heal from the divisive debates over the issue of controlling growth.

Smith, meanwhile, vowed to take city officials to task at the next City Council meeting for their actions against the initiative drive. He accused officials of telling residents the initiative would result in a tax increase, although they did not make it clear why that was so.

"They ain't getting rid of me just because we lost out on this," Smith said. "We've got other battles to fight."

Community center

Meanwhile, voters also downed a bond question that would have generated $17 million for Lehi to build a community and recreation center. The center was to include a swimming pool, a jogging track, a 1,000-seat auditorium, a rock climbing wall and workout areas.

Russon said he was glad the proposal failed, but that doesn't mean residents might not still get a new center someday.

"Over the next several years, I believe we can do something for the citizens as far as a recreation center that is more financially responsible," he said. "I believe the bond was defeated because it was too expensive and had too long of a period to pay back."

The bond proposal would have meant a property-tax increase of $144 per year for the owner of a $140,000 home in Lehi. The bonds would have been paid back over a 25-year period.

Voters struck down the recreation center proposal 2,342 to 652. The controlled growth initiative lost - 2,072 to 928.