Drew Ellerman, Washington City Community Development director, said “the residences” are one of three tiers of a new development planned to go in just above the northernmost part of N. Green Spring Dr., beyond Green Spring Park.
“One of them is going to be a town home project and that one is already approved,” Ellerman said. “One is going to be bigger lots – that’s already approved.
“Then there is this piece that sits in between that all of these people are fired up about,” he added.
Ellerman said the portion of land in question is owned by the State of Utah Institutions and Trust Lands Administration. The new development still awaits approval, and has been set to come before the City Council again on April, 9, he said.
Washington City Councilman Thad Seegmiller said the timing of the March 12 meeting was bad, because the city council room was under construction that night, so they had to make use of the adjacent courthouse which was much smaller.
“Our usual city chambers were flooded about a month ago,” He said. “Back in January, during that really cold spell, a pipe froze and it caused all of the fire sprinklers to turn on, and so we have been waiting for our insurance company to approve money for us to refurbish.”
He said the damage was significant, so when the money finally came through, construction began right away.
Bill Biesele, Home Owners Association vice president, said many in the audience interpreted the seating arrangement as a show of power. He said he didn’t believe it was done purposefully by the members of city council, but said he felt the “timing was unfortunate”.
“They have a very accommodating – although it wouldn’t have helped 125 people – council chambers,” he said.
He said, because they used a courtroom – where one side of the room is larger than the other, and the two sides are separated by a barrier – the space available was disproportionate to the needs of those in attendance.
Biesele said the council, who sat on the side of the court, had a great deal of space; but the public had no room to sit comfortably and overflowed into the outside hall – consequently leading some attendees feeling left out.
“It was a visual shock to see all of the people (crammed into a small space),” he said. “And then they’re up there with all of this space.”
Seegmiller said that while he could understand why some residents may have felt that way, but he wanted to make it clear that there was no intention of alienation. He said the council takes their role to the public very seriously, and he personally believes that the communication process is imperative to helping to meet the needs of the community members they serve.
Biesele said it is important to point out that the HOA has not taken any official position in regards to the preliminary plat for the residences issue. He said he felt personally compelled to help voice the concerns of the residents in the area, because he is a part of the community adjacent to the site of the new Escapes at Sunrise Residences development.
“I live right around there,” he said. “I got involved, because we had land owners in our HOA coming up and saying, ‘hey, I’m worried about this’.
“At the HOA, we have not taken a position, but these are my neighbors, these are my friends,” he added.
THE LANDOWNERS: STATE OF UTAH INSTITUTIONS AND TRUST LANDS ADMINISTRATION
According to their website found at www.schoollandtrust.org, SITLA was created in 1995 as a way of managing land trusts that were established by the founding fathers in 1785. These parcels of land were set aside by the government to be used to generate funds to supports schools in each state.
“In 1894, shortly before Utah became a state, Congress created a land trust including one-ninth of the land of the state to support our public schools,” the website reported. “Today, schools still have 3.3 million acres scattered around the state; if these scattered parcels were combined, it would make a parcel of land about the size of the state of Connecticut.”
Kyle Pasley, SITLA deputy assistant director for the southwest division said he works for the planning and development group that is responsible for finding ways to make money with the parcels of SITLA land in Washington and Kane Counties.
“We earn that money many ways,” he said. “Oil and gas, leasing, mining, surface uses such as grazing and telecommunication towers, and other agricultural uses.
“Then our group which is planning and development – which is land development – plans and develops with partners land that are residential developments, industrial, commercial, retail, and whatever we can along those lines,” he added.
He said some SITLA developments that Washington City residents may be familiar with are Coral Canyon, Fort Pierce Industrial Park, and the Hidden Valley Estates, which are part of the Ivory Homes project. Pasley said the money that was earned from each of these projects was deposited into bulk account called a permanent trust to be invested.
He said all SITLA managed lands deposit their earnings into the same permanent trust account for investment as a way of ensuring SITLA will continue generating funds for beneficiaries statewide no matter what.
Pasley said that by the time Utah became a state, a good portion of the trust lands had been privatized already. He said that from 1896 to 1994 the state went from owning 7.5 million acres of trust lands, to only about 3.5 million acres.
“There are 12 beneficiaries that we serve,” he said. “Public schools K -12 are the largest, so they own about 95 percent of the land that is left.”
He said some of the additional beneficiaries who receive SITLA funding are: University of Utah Health Care Miners Hospital and Clinic, normal schools – which are teaching colleges, Utah schools for the deaf, Utah schools for the blind and the state mental institution.
According to the 2013 SITLA financial report found at http://trustlands.utah.gov the agency generated $96.3 million in revenue to distribute amongst their 12 beneficiaries.
Washington County School District Business Administrator Brent Bills said that Washington City schools received $139,455 from SITLA for the 2013 – 2014 school year to be allocated to each of the four schools based on the number of students enrolled. Bills said each school has a governing board called community council that decides how each portion of money received will be spent in their school.
Although Pasley said SITLA funding came with very few strings allowing schools to use funding as flexibly as they see fit, Bills said that SITLA funding can be tricky and sometimes limiting, because there are strict regulations about how the money can be spent.
“The money can only be spent on instruction,” he said. “So if the school wants to put security measures in place the money cannot be used for that; if they want to buy playground equipment they can’t use it for that, so it is really highly determined where the money can go.
“I’m not saying it’s not a great source of income, because it does a lot of good for the schools in the district,” he added.
Bills said that one way the Washington County School District has used SITLA funding is to help create distance learning labs where secondary education students can take online courses that may not be available in the school they attend.
“We have one of the largest online programs in the state,” he said. “So to pay for the distance learning it costs money, right? So what’s happening is one of the schools is going to use their SITLA money to pay for the cost of having that program in their schools.”
All in all, Bills said the money, while slightly restrictive, is still an irreplaceable part of their budget.
THE ESCAPES AT SUNRISE – “THE RESIDENCES”
The approval for the preliminary plat for The Escapes at Sunrises Residences was postponed at the March 12 Washington City Council meeting until April 9, because there were parts of the paperwork that were incomplete, Ellerman said. He said the development agreement wasn’t strong enough so the council tabled the project’s approval to give planners time to solidify it.
Ellerman said that the City Council is sympathetic to the needs and opinions of residents who live on the N. Green Spring Dr. area, but he doesn’t foresee any changes being made to the preliminary plat suggested for “the residences.”
He said that, because everything in the proposal falls directly in line with the city’s general plan for what types of property can be zoned there, the disgruntled locals may have very little persuasive power.
It all comes down to the way the lots “feather” – meaning to graduate, or reduce in lot size from one home to the next – away from the already existing resident’s houses, into the newly proposed three tier project Pasley said.
He said that the SITLA development is on land designated as R-1, which means that it must remain a low density area based on Washington City’s general, or master, plan – subsequent numbers indicate how many square feet a lot size will be.
“For instance,” Pasley said. “An R-1-12 would be low density residential lots at 1,200 square feet, and an R-1-8 would be considered low density at 800 square feet.”
Ellerman said that when the proposals were first brought to council months ago, area residents raised concerns about the lack of feathering between them and the newly proposed housing so SITLA rearranged some things in an effort to find a compromise.
SITLA understood the concerns that were brought up at the earlier meetings, so, Pasley said, it was easy for them to take a step back and rework their plans to try and find a middle ground.
“We came back with about 300 feet of R-1-12, as well as, put a trail system that would run between the two developments into the planning,” Pasley said. “We were happy to change that; we understood their needs as an existing development.
“There were somewhere around six or seven lots total that ended up being lost, but it’s all a part of finding the middle ground,” he added.
Biesele said there is more to the issue than just feathering.
He said residents are worried about property value fluctuation if, and the traffic that the new housing would bring into the now quiet streets that rest against the hills. He said they are also concerned that there will be too many houses per lot, making the new development denser than in nearby neighborhoods.
“It’s a land value issue,” he said. “They want lots that will be only two-thirds, at most, the size of ours.”
He said that another issue many residents had was that only those who lived within 300 ft. of the area were notified about the plans for the new development. Though that is all that the law requires, Biesele said there are still many others who will be impacted by the influx of traffic after the development is complete.
“We have to go through that to get to anything,” he said.
Pasley said SITLA provided a traffic assessment with their original proposal and had already taken that part of the issue into consideration. He said that he feels there has been a communication breakdown, and that if more people understood exactly what SITLA had planned for the area, they would probably be less angry.
He said he is open to creating a dialog with the public that will help to clear up any misunderstandings, but he is not promising that dialogue will lead to any new changes in the proposal.
“We have our rights vested, and we will develop within those rights,” Pasley said. “But we also will try to develop to be a good neighbor, and a good member of the community, keep valuations up as much as we can, preserve use as much as we can, while still doing what we need to do to make money on our property.”