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Sandy Journal

Two Sandy rezone applications shine light on property rights debate

Sep 23, 2019 12:26PM ● By Justin Adams

Proponents of agricultural land worry that if the Sandy City Council sets a precedent of easily allowing property owners to rezone for development, the city’s pockets of urban farms like this one will start to disappear. (Justin Adams/City Journals)

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

Normally, city council meetings that consider land use decisions in this valley consist of residents campaigning for the development of large single-family homes in lieu of high-density developments like townhomes and condominiums. In Sandy, however, a group of Sandy residents have organized to oppose a proposal for two new developments of single-family homes. 

The two pieces of land in question, though four miles away from each other, are remarkably similar. Both contain large properties upon which two families raised their children surrounded by animals. Specifically, large animals like horses. The kind that require your property be zoned a certain way by the city to permit them.

Both those families have grown old and their kids have moved away, leaving aging parents to continue caring for large multi-acre farm properties. Now, those residents are ready to move on from that life and sell their property, liquidating their life-long investment and using the money to retire comfortably and enjoy their remaining years.  

Naturally, those property owners want to get the most they can out of their investment. That means subdividing the property into smaller lots, about a quarter-acre, to be exact. To do that, they need the property to be rezoned by the city council. That’s how the Sandy City Council found itself considering two requests for rezones of property in the city’s eastern boundaries on Aug. 20. 

So where is the controversy? Can’t a person do whatever they want with their property? Not so fast.

As one resident correctly noted during the city council meeting, there are limits to personal property rights. For example, you can’t decide to tear down your house in the middle of a suburban neighborhood and replace it with a convenience store.

Zoning regulations determine what can and can’t be done with a particular piece of property. According to Sandy city code, zoning districts “classify, regulate, and restrict uses, as well as combine uses and encourage the location of compatible land uses close to one another.”

This is why you don’t see a Maverick or 7/11 in the middle of a neighborhood, or an elementary school in the middle of a commercial center. But are those the same thing as a piece of farmland in the middle of a suburban area?

Many Sandy residents who own land with agricultural zone designations showed up to say that such property isn’t always compatible with suburban neighborhoods next door. They spoke about the unpleasant smells and noises which occasionally come from farm property, and which often lead to complaints or even litigation against them. 

Others touted urban farmland as a valuable community resource that needs to be protected for the sake of education and diversity.

“Kids learn life lessons growing up with animals and taking care of animals that they’ll never learn from video games. For that reason alone, we really should preserve as many of our horse properties as we can,” said Monica Zoltanski, a Sandy resident.

“I’m concerned generally that the remaining pieces of animal property in the city seem to be rezoned to a higher density. We have very little horse property left. I don’t think we need to turn all of it into single-family housing,” said Charles Hardy, another resident. 

That viewpoint had the support of multiple city councilors, including Brooke Christensen.

“If we keep rezoning these animal rights, we lose the uniqueness and the inclusivity we want for all different kinds of people,” Christensen said. 

Other councilors leaned on the side of personal property rights.

“I have to think about Geri [one of the property owners] and how she wants to sell her property. I’m all for animal rights, but I too have to think about the property owner,” Councilwoman Linda Martinez-Saville said. 

The issue ended up dividing the council exactly in half for one of the rezone applications (the other was narrowly approved) after the absence of a city council member left the body with an even number of votes. Discussion on the particular item was initially postponed until a later date, but the applicant later withdrew their application and submitted an altered one, which will now have to go through the city’s approval process from the beginning.