By Leon Day
For about a decade, I was a member and then chairman of the Sanpete County Planning Commission. When I first joined, the planning commission mostly reviewed and approved land-use applications. Not much if any planning for the future was being done. The ordinances were about 20 years out of date with the state code, which the Utah Legislature tunes up every year.
No money for that
I advocated many times to get the ordinances updated and asked for funding for a consultants help. The county commission repeatedly said, “There is no money for that,” which is the standard reply in Sanpete County, especially when it comes to discussing development.
That meant no money for a county surveyor, maintenance of roads, county attorney’s time, an experienced county planner or updating seriously flawed land-use ordinances, which were all on my priority list.
During my tenure, the planning commission recognized that things needed a big overhaul. The outdated county ordinances have been administered on a shoestring budget for so long, that there is now not adequate institutional knowledge of how things should be properly done.
For me, two issues were especially problematic—the county-roads policy and the old major/minor subdivision rules, a holdover from decades in the past.
Normally, for new development in Utah, the developer pays for and constructs new infrastructure (roads), which when completed to county requirements, are accepted by the county, become county property, and then receive county maintenance.
The basic requirements for new development are water, sewer, power, and roads. Out of these items, the county is best suited to supply road maintenance. As a landowner you need a public road to get to your home or business.
For safety reasons, roads should be professionally designed and constructed to exacting standards and then get proper maintenance, which includes snow removal. Nationally, the standard is that overall the majority of roads are publicly owned and maintained.
About 30 years ago, the county was burned over a road in a new development. The road was noted on the plat as a “public road,” and the county accepted the plat. The development went bankrupt, and a lender sued the county to construct the road.
Because the county did not have proper or adequate ordinances in place, it got stuck with the bill. The county changed the policy to never accept a county public road dedication again. All new roads were to be privately owned.
This may be okay for a gated community or large developments, that have well-funded homeowner’s associations, but for average subdivision in the valley, it does not work at all, nor is it reasonable. It causes a snowballing effect; the problems get bigger as they roll along downhill until they crash and do severe harm in the future.
By rejecting public ownership of new roads in the county, the county denies itself and residents the benefit of Class B road runs from the State of Utah while continuing to shoot themselves in the foot with continued excuses of “there is no money for that.”
Currently, a very comprehensive “Road Design and Construction Manual” has been proposed. Adoption would be a giant leap, essentially from the 1800’s to well ahead of most rural counties in Utah. It is modeled upon a well vetted 40-year-old ordinance from a county in Colorado, which has less than half the population of Sanpete.
The planning commission has carefully reviewed and discussed the document for the last three years and has recommend it to the county commission. It is a large document, over 100 pages, so just getting it read and reviewed has been a struggle. It addresses every issue concerning roads that I have heard in about a decade on the planning commission.
The second major issue the county faces is the current major/minor subdivision ordinances. They are so out of date with the state law it is unbelievable. Pushing for about a decade to get them fixed has been no easy task. Clinging to past ideas and ways of doing things has made updating these ordinances like trying to turn an aircraft carrier with a canoe paddle.
Finally, about a year ago, the county approved the hiring of a consultant to rewrite the subdivision ordinances. The consultant was asked to develop a new document based on current state code. But that is not what we got.
As a result, the county commission, zoning administrator and, to some degree, the planning commission, are not developing new ordinances in line with the intent of Utah state code.
There is still time to get this right, but the public will need to get involved. When I leaned into this issue hard with a big paddle, the paddle broke, and I am no longer a member of the planning commission.
Government is run by the people who show up and the people the citizens elect. Please get involved with the development of the new county ordinances and help steer this ship back on course. The future of the county depends on YOU!
Leon Day is a licensed civil engineer and land surveyor in Utah. He is now employed by CIS Professional Land Surveying of Nephi. Day has completed many land surveys and subdivision plats in Sanpete County during the last 20 years. Mr. Day maintains a development-related Facebook page @reasonablesanpetedev.