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Ex-lawmaker wins condo nod

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Developer Stephen J. Rees has persuaded the City Council to approve a controversial rezoning that will allow him to pack 24 condominiums onto 1.8 acres adjacent to historic Gardner Village.

Endorsing the rezone by a 4-3 vote, the council overrode the recommendations of its planning staff and the objections of three council members who argued the density was too high and inappropriate for the city's 7800 South gateway.The vote also set aside a compromise hammered out earlier this month that would have limited Rees to 18 units on the irregularly shaped piece of land - about half of which is buildable.

But Rees, a former state legislator, told the council the project isn't economically feasible at 18 units. "Rather than take a back door approach" by limiting it to 18 units, he said, "it would be better to vote to kill the project."

Councilman Brian Pitts, who noted the old R-2 zoning permits duplexes, argued on behalf of Rees' proposal because it would ensure "more open space" and provide concealed parking under each condo unit.

With less open asphalt for parking, Councilwoman Margaret Grochocki added, there would be less storm runoff.

But Councilman David Newton, who opposed the rezone, said he had personally walked the property and evaluated similar units built by Rees before concluding "I don't see how it will work."

And Mayor Donna Evans said she's worried the council was caving in to a "bait and switch" tactic aimed at increasing the density.

"We need to raise the bar" on development in West Jordan, she added. "Eigh-teen units is pushing it . . . 24 is too many."

A motion by Evans to rezone the property for 18 units was defeated 3-4 with Pitts, Grochocki, Jay Bowcutt and Gordon Haight voting "no." The same four council members voted 4-3 for the 24-unit density with Newton, Evans and David Plouzek voting against.

The council vote basically gives Rees everything he asked for earlier this summer when he originally came to the city with a request for a 24-unit project.

That was turned down, however, because the city's zoning ordinance would not allow that many units and the matter was referred back to the Planning Commission to amend the ordinance to allow a higher density.

After that was done, the project came back to the council, but the 18-unit compromise was approved with Councilman Jay Bowcutt abstaining because his carpeting company frequently works for Rees.

To get the 4-3 vote shift, other council members had to lobby behind the scenes to persuade Haight to reverse his opposition to the higher density and convince Bowcutt to vote on the issue despite his conflict of interest.

Bowcutt stated the conflict in open meeting, as required by law, and said others had convinced him it would be "a cop-out" not to vote on the issue. Utah law allows public officials to vote on matters where they have a conflict of interest as long as they publicly disclose it before voting.