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Utah governor lets Mountainous Planning Commission live to see another day, despite earlier warning

SALT LAKE CITY — The Mountainous Planning Commission, which would have ceased to exist in June 2020, will live to see another year after Gov. Gary Herbert let a bill become law without his signature on Wednesday.

Yet, like he did in 2017 with a warning letter to then-GOP leadership, Herbert wrote a letterto House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, again indicating his displeasure about the commission continuing to linger on.

"What was originally intended to be a one-year project will now extend to a total of six years," he wrote in the letter dated April 3. "I strongly encourage the Mountain Planning District to complete its work in as timely a manner as possible."

SB187, which gives the planning body until June 2021 to get its work done, came under fierce criticism and an intense email campaign to sponsors during the legislative session and then at the governor's office once it passed, with opponents urging its veto.

Greg Schiffman, vice chairman of the Granite Community Council, said Thursday he will continue to voice his opposition to the district, which he says gives disproportionate representation to residents of bigger metropolitan areas like Sandy or Salt Lake City over canyon area residents.

"The Mountainous Planning District and Commission sets a tremendously dangerous precedent for the state of Utah that cannot be tolerated," he said, adding he wants the Quality Growth Commission to look into the issue.

Schiffman said it is unprecedented that a commission be given land use authority — in this instance over the canyons and the newly incorporated town of Brighton — in a manner that also lacks an appeals process.

Brighton residents voted to incorporate in the last general election but learned they would be on the hook for paying for public safety services in a recreation area that receives more than a million visitors per year up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Language in this new law allows for county general funds to continue to pay for those public safety services — something residents in other incorporated townships have said sets up a practice that is inconsistent and unfair.

Brighton, because it incorporated after 1971, lacks any zoning authority and must defer to the commission.

Barb Cameron, head of the Big Cottonwood Canyon Community Council, wanted the bill to pass because of the public safety conundrum, stressing cost of those services should be shared by all county residents not just the fledgling city of just a few hundred residents.

Amid the controversy that accompanied the measure at the Legislature, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, was asked to be the new Senate sponsor of the measure, taking over for Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton.

He said Thursday he agreed to carry the bill after meeting with both proponents and opponents.

"It seemed reasonable to extend the sunset for one year (for the commission) to do the master plan," he said.

He noted the original bill asked for a three-year extension of the commission, while this latest version settled for one.

"It seemed reasonable to extend it one year."

Bramble said opponents didn't want to relinquish local planning control, but also didn't want to pay the bill for public safety.

"How does that work? Let me decide whatever I want and make you pay for it?"

Bramble added he believed the issue of the Mountainous Planning Commission was wrongly conflated with the Mountain Accord, a planning effort launched for the Wasatch Canyons that later became embroiled in lawsuits and audits.

The commission is made up of nine members, two of whom represent Big and Little Cottonwood canyons while the rest are from cities like Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Salt Lake City and South Jordan.