Sterling to beef up land-use ordinance
By John Hales
Aug. 31, 2017
STERLING—Time was, a town or small city could get away with a bit of downhome style in the language of its ordinances.
But there also comes a time when growth and development forces a kind of municipal coming-of-age.
For Sterling, that time has come, at least as indicated by proposed changes to the town’s land-development ordinances.
Sterling is still one of the smallest towns in not only Sanpete County, but in the entire state, ranking 208th in population out of Utah’s 243 municipalities as of the 2010 Census.
But as all towns and cities in due course of time, Sterling’s growth and development is requiring a rite of passage of sorts: a revamp of zoning, development and building regulations.
On Thursday, Sept. 7 and again on Friday, Sept. 15, Sterling Town officials will explain proposed amendments to the town’s Land Use Management and Development Ordinance at public hearings hosted by the Sterling Planning Commission and the Sterling Town Council. It is the first set of sweeping changes to the ordinance since its adoption in 1995. Town residents will be able to weigh in on those changes during the meetings.
“We’ve just added a few things that needed to be updated and that have been brought to our attention,” said Planning Commission Chair Jane Voorhees at a meeting of the Sterling Town Council on Friday, Aug. 18.
The current ordinance itself is not that old, relatively. It was adopted in 1995, and contains what might be called rural, small-town “quaint-isms.”
For instance, the town’s commercial zone (which in the ordinance is technically called the “commercial-residential” zone), has boundaries that are defined by specific businesses—Rough Cut restaurant and Steve’s Fish Taxidermy, Tackle and Sports—and geographic features such as “the creek bottom” and “a private lane,” rather than by street names (though the old ordinance does draw the line somewhere and avoids phrases like “down there a bit” and “yonder a ways”).
Changes in the commercial-zone description are one of the most significant of the proposed amendments.
The proposed new description of the commercial-residential zone conforms closer to the “standard” language of laws and ordinances, and at the same time extends the zone. References to the businesses (both now defunct) are eliminated. The new zone would extend along Main Street (U.S. 89) from 200 North to 200 South and would be one-half block deep on either side of the street.
Another change will restrict the construction of mobile homes. Double-wide mobile homes, under the proposed changes, would no longer be allowed to be built on permanent foundations. Those already in existence would be grandfathered in; however, “grandfathered” status would expire after either 180 days of vacancy or a change in ownership.
Also proposed is a prohibition on duplexes and apartments in the town’s rural-residential area, except those intended for use by an owner’s “close family member.” In other words, if it is a commercial or profit-making venture, such dwellings would not be allowed. They would be still acceptable in the commercial zone, however.
Several changes to regulations regarding subdivisions are also being suggested by the planning commission. Such changes deal with things like preventing property from becoming landlocked, ingress and egress requirements, reducing the number of lots a subdivision can have without a plat being required, avoiding development plans that result in dead-end streets, road construction standards, and other issues that have arisen (such as compliance to development requirements, water acquisition and building regulations) between the town and developers—sometimes contentiously—of late.
Planning Commission Chair Voorhees indicated that proposed changes are designed to prevent the type of scatter-shot development seen in other areas, now that Sterling is apparently becoming one of the newest places to build.
“They go in, they dig a hole, they don’t care if it’s square, and they build a house. That’s what they do,” Voorhees said during a meeting in July. Later she said, “We don’t want to be like Indianola Valley.”
But regulations can be of little value without enforcement, noted Councilman Scott Johnson at the Aug. 18 council meeting.
“One of the things that we need to do is hire somebody … to represent Sterling as an inspector when a house goes in, or a building goes in,” Johnson said. “What happens a lot of times is we overlook it,” which can lead to trouble later.
“Because somebody’s not out with measuring tape now and then, we over look things, and then it’s after the fact that we realize the house wasn’t set back far enough, or the road wasn’t wide enough,” Johnson said.
The council determined to rectify that by hiring a part-time inspector, Sterling resident Jim Housekeeper.
Councilman Curtis Ludvigson noted that, likewise, regulations mean little if town officials continually grant exceptions or variances. He cautioned in advance of possible future battles with developers, “Just hang tough, and follow the ordinances. I’m not saying you haven’t been, I’m just saying don’t give in and let anything slide.”
Public hearing on the proposed land-use and subdivision amendments will take place:
- Thursday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. at Sterling Town Hall, held by the Sterling Planning Commission; and
- Friday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Sterling Town Hall, prior to a meeting of the Sterling Town Council.