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Billings vetoes rental plan

PROVO — Provo Mayor Lewis K. Billings used his veto power for the first time since his 1998 election Thursday to squash a controversial ordinance that would have reduced the number of single, unrelated renters in the majority of Provo's neighborhoods.

Billings had been under heavy pressure to veto the ordinance since it was passed two weeks ago by the City Council on a 4-3 vote. The ordinance reduced the number of unrelated singles allowed to rent a unit in most of the city's residential zones from three to two.

Proponents of the measure said it would attract more families to residential neighborhoods; opponents said it would decrease property values and drive up rent prices.

In a letter to the council, Billings said the ordinance was "too broad and over-reaching."

Billings encouraged the council to apply the ordinance on a "neighborhood by neighborhood basis" to see if it is effective before enacting it citywide.

The City Council can overturn Billings' veto Tuesday with a 5-2 vote, but that is unlikely.

"There's no way we have five votes to override it. That's obvious," Councilman Dave Knecht says.

Knecht says other parts of the ordinance, which clarify the way zoning laws apply to families, are worth saving, and he hopes the council will pass the ordinance once the controversial language is scrapped.

Residents who want the ordinance enacted in their neighborhood may have to get the majority of their neighbors to support such a proposal before the council considers it.

Knecht says this "opt-in" proposal makes it difficult to apply the ordinance in areas where less than half the homes are owner occupied.

"I feel bad for those neighborhoods that want it but aren't going to get it," Knecht said. "I'm willing to go against the majority if it's in the best interest of the city, and I don't think other council members are willing to do that."

The veto came as a relief to residents who opposed it, but it was not much of a surprise. Several real estate brokers say Billings promised to veto the law even before it passed.

"I think the mayor is an astute political observer. There were a lot more people against it than for it," said Chris Jones, a mortgage broker who led a citizen group formed to fight the plan.