Moves to clean up Moroni hinge on enforcement
MORONI—Moroni could and should be a rural community that offers a quality residential environment.
“We can be the most beautiful town in Sanpete County,” says Jed Demill, a city councilman and the council liaison with the town’s planning and zoning commission.
Moroni has an excellent secondary irrigation system and more water than most towns, which could translate to lots of green lawns. The town is growing, with many attractive new homes being built.
Yet an increasing number of homes, including some at the town entrances, have no lawns at all. The space in front of the homes is dirt and weeds, often with some junk thrown in.
And it seems that around every corner, both behind homes, in block interiors and in plain view, is some sort of unauthorized junk yard.
One house has what Demill believes are 40-50 washers and dryers, easily visible through the fallen or missing slats of a metal panel fence.
A vacant lot beside one home has an old wagon loaded with rolled up chicken wire, and about 10 feet away, a giant pile of tree branches.
One interior lot has upwards of 20 junk vehicles, with some kind of old limousine covered in canvas out on the street.
A lot for sale in a part of town where other new homes have been built backs up against an array of junk, including an old sink, branches and junk vehicles.
“I don’t know if any of you have driven around town,” Demill told the city council in April. “I’ve had four or five people come up to me in the last four or five weeks. They want something done with our city.”
For about two years, two mayors, two city councils and the Moroni Planning and Zoning Commission have been reviewing and revising ordinances related to zoning, subdivisions, animals and nuisances, among other topics. A few revised ordinances have been adopted. Most are still pending.
The whole effort is coming to a head, possibly at the next council meeting July 19. That’s when the council is expected to take up many of the ordinance drafts, including the most controversial issue of all—enforcement.
The current ordinance has vague language saying that a person who violates zoning or nuisance ordinances can be found guilty of an “infraction,” carrying an unspecified penalty.
Mayor Paul Bailey, Demill, and the planning an zoning commission want to put teeth into the ordinances with a tough enforcement clause that applies to all types of zoning and nuisance violations.
The city needs to be able to “go in there, give ‘em a warning, tell them, ‘This is what we want, we’ll give you two weeks to get it done. If not, we’re just going to send in law enforcement to come and give you a ticket.,’” Demill said at the April council meeting.
Such a citation would be a Class B misdemeanor and require an appearance in the city justice court. If the property owner failed to appear, a warrant would go out for his or her arrest.
If the owner did appear, he or she could be represented by a lawyer. But if the judge found the owner guilty of violating ordinances and ignoring a warning to clean up, he could conceivably sentence the owner to jail. (Notably, all justice court actions can be appealed to 6th District Court.)
That potential makes some of the council members uncomfortable. “Are we willing to start putting people in jail for washers and dryers?” Councilman Fred Atkinson asked at the April council meeting.
“In the beginning, we might have two or three of them that we have to make examples of, but once you do that, everybody’s going to kind of come into line,” Demill responded.
“I think there will be some people who will fight it,” Atkinson said. He said he understood the complaints about junk cars and other nuisances. But he characterized moves to crack down as “50 people trying to control the rest of the town.”
“I don’t think I should be able to tell somebody that car’s an eyesore or you’ve got to park that trailer behind your house….I have a hard time with it.”
An effort to review and update all Moroni ordinances started after Luke Freeman was elected mayor in 2014. His job at Pittman Farms, formerly Norbest, includes writing and revising company policies.
After Freeman left office, he became a member of the planning commission, where he has continued to take a lead role in revision of the zoning, nuisance and related ordinances.
In 2017, Paul Bailey was elected mayor, partly on a pledge to clean up the town. Besides pushing ordinance revisions, he has collected substantial donations and initiated a host of improvements to public spaces, ranging from planting trees and improving landscaping around the Moroni Opera House to developing a new park at the east entrance of the city.
“We want to clean up our portion of the city so maybe people will take care of their portions,” he says.
Bailey, Demill and some of the planning and zoning members have also taken the lead by improving their own homes. Demill, for instance, got together with a next door neighbor and put down decorative gravel in the space between their houses and the road.
The strip between the road asphalt and property lines is actually city property, but the city needs the help of residents to take care of it, he says.
There’s little debate on those types of efforts. And, Bailey says, the city council has even reached a consensus on most of the substance of the zoning, nuisance and animal ordinances.
For instance, the maximum number of non-operating vehicles allowed on a property is two. One horse is permitted on a quarter acre, so long as the quarter acre is open space and doesn’t have a house or other accessory buildings on it.
“Should we allow 25 chickens or 10? We got all that nailed down,” Bailey says.
The remaining question is whether anything will be done about the serious violators. “We just want some teeth in the ordinance, and for that, we need Class B,” the mayor says.
“I’m one who likes very defined policies,” Freeman says. “That was my focus as mayor. I’d like to have Moroni defined as what the mayor and council want, and have some structure to support that. I want to make sure everything is as open and plain as possible.”
Heather Christensen, chairwoman of the planning and zoning commission, said she talked recently to a Utah County developer who told her 3,000 homes are slated to be built between Santaquin and the Juab County line.
Some of that growth is sure to spill over into places like Moroni, she says. “We need to prepare. I think it’s great that we’re putting some teeth into our ordinances. It’s good for the future growth of Moroni.”
Demill says he doesn’t like confrontation. He wants to keep all his friends in Moroni. But he wants a tidier town. “We’re not trying to shake up the world. We just want to clean things up. That’s what our goal is.”