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Bluffdale Council votes to 'perk up' housing proposal
City to meet with a state planner to try and fix the plan

BLUFFDALE -- Bluffdale's City Council wished for Richard Walker's blessing Tuesday night but didn't get it.

The noted expert on Utah's affordable-housing laws said Bluffdale's latest plan to add 376 moderate-income housing units by the year 2005 is insufficient -- contrary to what city officials had previously been told by their advisers."I'm hoping there would be some fairly substantial changes to the plan and that it would . . . go back to the Planning Commission," Walker, a planner with the state's Department of Community and Economic Development, told the council.

The criticism seemed to surprise some council members. Councilman Wayne Mortimer asked Walker if, while talking to others, he'd ever referred to Bluffdale's new 25-page housing proposal as "a fairly complete and good plan."

Walker's unhesitating response: "I did not."

Securing Walker's endorsement is crucial for Bluffdale because the city is facing a court-ordered March 31 deadline to map out how it intends to conform to the state's affordable-housing laws, which mandate that all Utah communities must provide a variety of housing types.

But the City Council ignored Walker's suggestion that the plan be sent back to the Planning Commission, and instead voted unanimously to meet with him and other experts over the next few weeks to "try and perk up our plan a little bit" in the words of councilman Lee Wanlass.

"I don't think it's going to be a tremendous amount of work," said James Sorensen, the author of Bluffdale's new affordable-housing proposal, the sequel to the city's earlier plan that was rejected by a District Court judge last year.

Yet many agree with Walker that Bluffdale's plan needs much more than just minor tinkering.

Advocates for the elderly, disabled and lower-income persons outnumbered other Bluffdale residents at Tuesday's public hearing and each echoed the same perceived flaws in Bluffdale's plan: This rural city, rich with one- and five-acre lots, lacks the high-density zoning designations and specific goals to make a moderate-income housing plan work.

"From my reading, I don't see a detailed scheme," said Barbara Toomer, an official with the Disabled Rights Action Committee in Salt Lake City. "I don't see anything that tells me how you're going to do it. I see lots of suggestions. I want to see when you're going to do it and how you're going to do it."

Toomer said words like "encourage" in the council's current proposal should be replaced with firmer, more committed language, such as "We will do . . . "

Councilman Jesse Kelley disagreed, however, saying "I don't know that we need that kind of specificity in the project."

Toomer, Walker and others urged the council to include multi-family zoning uses in their affordable-housing plan -- a feature absent from the existing draft.

The plan calls for zoning affordable housing sites through conditional-use permits.

Many other cities are closely monitoring Bluffdale's struggles, which began when a developer filed a lawsuit against the city last year. Under the state's 1996 affordable housing laws, each city, depending on its size, must have a certain number of moderately-priced units such as houses that cost no more than $117,318 or two-bedroom apartments whose rent could not exceed $818.

"Do you think it's really fair to demand of a small city with only a part-time (city) planner the same details as, say, Sandy City?" councilwoman Colleen Bliss asked Walker. "We're just a tiny, little town. It's not that we don't want to do it, it's how can the state assist us?"

Walker said Bluffdale's affordable housing plan would ultimately be judged by whether it devises a plan in "good faith."

It was precisely that demon which bit Bluffdale last year, when a District Court judge rejected the city's first housing plan as knowingly unsuitable, and the city then missed a Dec. 31 deadline to submit a new plan.

Bluffdale's council is expected to revisit its affordable housing plan March 28.