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Zoning veto is sought in Provo

PROVO — Mayor Lewis K. Billings is under heavy pressure to veto a controversial zoning law passed Tuesday by the Provo City Council.

Billings' office has been flooded with complaints since the council voted 4-3 to pass a complex ordinance that reduces the number of unrelated individuals who can rent residential homes from three people to two.

"Someone must have started a phone tree. We've had a lot of calls coming in the last couple of hours," Provo Chief Administrative Officer Bob Stockwell said Thursday.

Stockwell says Billings is "seriously considering" a veto, although that may be a month away. The ordinance must be reworked before the council

meets in two weeks for a final vote. Billings would have two weeks from that date, March 18, to veto.

"The City Council has one more chance to not adopt it — we hope," Stockwell said.

Stockwell says enforcement will be a nightmare because the city can't afford to hire more zoning officers.

The city's nine enforcement officers are already swamped with work, and Stockwell says they will not have time to respond to the "tremendous increase" in complaints the new ordinance will generate.

"There is no lack of will. There is a limit to what a given number of people can accomplish," Stockwell said. "Our existing staff is carrying as much as they can."

Many of the complaints Billings has received have come from Realtors and property owners who say the new law will reduce the value of their rental homes.

And some argue this will in turn raise rent for students and singles who would rather live in single-family homes than apartment complexes.

"The stated goal is to force rental property owners to sell to families instead of singles," says Chris Jones, a mortgage broker who opposes the ordinance. "If that's what happens, there will be a reduction in the supply of student housing. Rent will go up. It's the simple law of supply and demand."

Councilman Dave Knecht says the high vacancy rates in Provo and Orem suggest a shortage of student housing is unlikely, especially with several massive complexes under construction in Orem. Housing for Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College students is 10 percent vacant, and some large complexes in Provo, such as Glenwood and Riviera, are at 20 percent vacancy.

Dave Freeman, who owns the Glenwood and Riviera, says the market is already overbuilt.

"Rents should not go up because you already have existing vacancies," says Craig Carlisle, a member of the Planning Commission that voted 7-0 in favor of the proposal.

Knecht says supply will not decrease in Provo because under the new law those who now rent to three singles can continue to do so.

But property owners say that is not true, because once a rental home is sold or rented to a family for more than 6 months, it must come into compliance with the new law.

"I don't care what vacancy rates are in stacked high-rise apartments, because that's not what we're talking about," Jones says. "We're talking about a home where you can have a barbecue in the back yard. That's where many students want to live, and there will definitely be a rental price increase in those types of units. I don't think there's any question about that."

That has some college students upset. Leslie Street, a BYU law student, resents the council's goal to push students out of residential neighborhoods. She says older students do not want to live in noisy, run-down apartments.

"I don't like being told that we don't belong in certain parts of town. There's an implication that we don't make the same contributions to a neighborhood that families make, and I think that's unfair," she said. "There's this idea out there that students ruin neighborhoods."

Street said she and her roommates actively participate in the community, donating their time to teach children piano lessons and volunteering for community service.

They have also become more active in city politics.

"The City Council doesn't listen to students because students don't vote," Street said. "If I could leave one legacy at BYU, it would be that more students become involved politically."