BLUFFDALE — Under court order to develop an affordable-housing plan, the City Council has approved an ordinance allowing high-density housing — a move that some residents fear will tarnish their city's rural charm.
The revised zoning ordinance will allow as many as 12.5 lots per acre in multifamily housing zones, with a provision that would allow as many as 15 lots per acre if the development is targeted for low- or middle-income people. Formerly, the city did not allow more than one lot per acre, a requirement that critics said discriminated against minorities, the poor and people with disabilities.
"The city has taken drastic steps towards allowing more diverse and higher-density housing in the community," Bluffdale Planner Andy Hall said.
Affordable housing and disability-rights advocates continued to express concerns that the new regulations still failed to provide adequate affordable housing, especially with requirements for high-density housing to provide amenities such as picnic tables, playgrounds or tennis courts. Those requirements, however, were needed to ensure that developments were attractive and did not become blights, Hall said.
"The city is trading a higher density for a nicer development," he said.
Prior to passing the ordinance, the City Council held an hourlong closed meeting to discuss the proposed changes. The closed meeting was allowed under state law because the city is currently being sued by a group that includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Anderson Development and the Disabled Rights Action Committee. Because of that suit, which was initiated after Anderson Development's plan to develop an affordable housing complex was denied, the city was forced to finalize its affordable-housing plan before a Nov. 3 court date.
The dispute about affordable-housing requirements in Bluffdale started more than two years ago and since then has angered residents determined to keep their southwestern corner of Salt Lake County as rural as possible. At Tuesday's meeting, however, only one resident spoke against the plan.
"I moved to Bluffdale because it's rural, and a lot of people want to keep it rural," resident Wendy Beagley said.
Beagley, a member of the planning commission, worried that allowing the high-density housing will make Bluffdale just another Salt Lake suburb.
"We will have a lot of small houses and small lots, and it's not what we want," she said.
Michael Hutchings, the attorney representing Anderson Development, provided written comments during the public hearing addressing some of the ordinance's shortcomings in providing for adequate affordable housing. For example, Hutchings said, the city should allow 18 units per acre, and he would also like to see financial incentives for developers who provide affordable housing. But those shortcomings, he said, could be more easily handled after Bluffdale had passed the initial ordinance.
"I'm pleased (with the ordinance), in a way," said Hutchings, a former judge in the 3rd District Court. "It's a step in the right direction."
The real test will come when Anderson Development makes a new application to develop property on the corner of Redwood Road and Bangerter Highway, Hutchings said. Although he expects a continued battle with the city, he said that eventually Bluffdale will have to admit that its rural atmosphere will evaporate. Based on predictions from the Governor's Office of Planning, Bluffdale is expected to be the second-fastest growing city in Utah. Herriman is predicted to be the first.
"Here's a city that has got all of this growth, and it's just starting to deal with these issues," he said.