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S. Jordan denies SOS referendum plea

A group of residents calling itself SOS (Save Open Space) won't have to learn Morse code to decipher the terse two-letter message City Council members issued Tuesday night in response to the group's request for a voter referendum.

The letters were"N" and "O."But that's one "no" the South Jordan-based group says it isn't willing to take for an answer.

SOS is bitterly contesting a plan by developer Gerald Anderson to build the equivalent of six or seven buildings up to six stories high on 85 acres south of 10600 South and west of the Jordan River.

Two weeks ago, the council declined to take action on an SOS request for a referendum petition challenging a Dec. 16 council decision that granted a 120-day zoning extension for the controversial RiverPark office complex.

The city sent the group a letter of denial Feb. 5, and SOS organizers said they would appeal the decision if the council did not reverse its decision Tuesday night.

Instead, the council made its rejection official and unanimously approved a motion by newly elect-ed Councilman Gary Chandler to stand by a legal opinion by City Attorney Mike Mazuran advising the city to deny the request.

That opinion advised the city that the referendum petition was legally flawed and did not comply with state election law.

Chandler said the "primary reason" for denial is that "Utah law prohibits the recall of ordinances that apply to individual property zoning decisions."

Mazuran's opinion also said a referendum petition was not filed within the 35-day time limit prescribed by law. And he indicated one of the people who signed the petition application was not registered to vote in South Jordan during the last municipal election.

But SOS spokeswoman Janalee Tobias said Tuesday her group doesn't agree with those findings.

"We plan to take this to the Supreme Court," which has the statutory responsibility for hearing this kind of election appeal, she said.

However, Tobias said Wednesday she has been advised by an attorney not to make any further comment on the issue until she receives official communication from the city that the referendum request has been rejected.

SOS has obtained an "opinion" letter from the lieutenant governor's office that Tobias says shows the city was wrong in rejecting the referendum request.

The letter, written by State Director of Elections Kelleen Potter, did not specifically endorse the group's position but explained state law is unclear on whether an application for a petition or the actual petition has to be filed within 35 days.

She also said state and federal law considers any voter who moves within the same county and same congressional district to be legally registered and entitled to vote or sponsor a petition.

However, Potter's letter was silent on the most important single legal issue: Utah Code 20A-7-101 provides the "local laws" that can be challenged through a referendum "do not include individual property zoning decisions."

Tobias said the group is opposing the December extension of RiverPark's deadline to April 28, and not the zoning itself.

But city officials say Tobias' argument doesn't hold water because it's the rezoning of the RiverPark site to office service use that the council extended on Dec. 16.

SOS' appeal to the state's high court may be an exercise in futility, however, because of the time elements outlined in state law.

The statute says completed referendum petitions must be turned in 120 days before a general, municipal or special election. It also specifies certain days when special elections can be held.

Even if petitions could be finished and submitted with 1,500 signatures within the next 12 days (Feb. 23), the next special election could not be held until June 28, which is two full months after the rezoning extension expires.

Tobias concedes those problems but said her group wants to call for a referendum anyway.

The SOS organizer said the referendum will show "that it's not just a handful of people" who oppose the RiverPark proposal, but a large percentage of South Jordan residents.