A Republican-backed bill to override municipal zoning regulations in Utah has drawn criticism by Logan officials as a case of legislative overreach — the same thing Republican lawmakers often accuse the federal government of doing.
But Republicans, including Cache Valley Rep. Casey Snider, say the action is necessary to reduce invasive regulations on private property owners and will also help provide much-needed affordable housing across the state.
In its original form, H.B. 82 called for statewide deregulation of what are popularly known as “mother-in-law apartments,” or accessory dwelling units, effectively nullifying local regulations. But after objections were raised by Logan and other cities, the bill was amended in several ways, including the addition of stipulations that only owner-occupied homes would apply, and cities like Logan and Provo with larger universities would only have to allow deregulated ADUs in 33% of their residential areas.
“We don’t love it, but with the amendments it’s more acceptable,” Logan Mayor Holly Daines said, explaining that the Utah League of Cities and Towns has dropped its initial opposition and is now taking a “neutral” position on the bill, which passed the Utah House of Representatives and moved to the Senate late last week. “So many bills this session have tried to eliminate local control on various issues, and our position is those closest to the population can make those decisions best for their constituents.”
Daines argues unregulated ADUs can have “unintended consequences,” like Logan saw early last decade when it loosened rules on basement apartments in the Adams neighborhood at the request of Utah State University, resulting in a morass of parking and over-occupancy problems.
“They (the bill’s proponents) are saying it’s a property rights issue and people should be able to do what they want with their property. I say it certainly is a property rights issue, and what about the neighbors who bought in a single-family zoned neighborhood assuming that zoning would be honored?” Daines said.
In a weekly town meeting conducted by Cache Valley legislators, Rep. Snider acknowledged Logan’s opposition to H.B. 82 but said he voted for the bill primarily to relieve residents of undue government constraints.
“I really don’t like wading into these issues and think most of us are of the local-control bent, but I also think there is a balance here between local control and private property rights, and I think at times that balance is lopsided and it becomes necessary for the Legislature to step in,” Snider said.
He used the example of a Cache Valley family that wanted their parents to move in with them but ran into a thicket of local regulations.
“They were in a single-family area out in the county … and the county said if you’re going to do this you’re going to have to get an easement across several of your neighbors, you’re going to have to pave three quarters of a mile of road, you’re going to have to move the canal, all of these things to make a simple change to allow their in-laws to live in the home with them. I think that’s not fair. I think there’s a private property issue involved,” Snider said.
Also in favor of the bill is District 1 Rep. Joel Ferry, who told town hall listeners the bill could provide critical affordable housing as home and rental prices skyrocket around Utah in tandem with dramatic population growth.
“Where are we going to put all the people that want to come here?” he asked. “And it’s not just people coming from California. It’s our kids who are growing up, and because this is such an awesome place to live, they want to live here. … There’s not a home in Box Elder County right now under $300,000, even starter homes. That is insane. How is a college graduate going to be able to afford that? They need to have an opportunity to live somewhere, and we want them in these communities, we want them to be good, contributing members of our towns and our neighborhoods, and this gives them an opportunity to do that.”
Ferry said he thinks the H.B. 82 amendments — especially the one limiting the bill’s reach to just owner-occupied dwellings — will go a long way toward mitigating negative impacts on cites.
“Logan city I know has some real concerns about this,” he said. “What, 60% of Logan’s homes right now are already rental units. Those homes don’t qualify for this. It has to be owner-occupied. You live upstairs, a renter lives downstairs or vise versa or whatever arrangement you want. If you think about it, if you live in the home and you’re picking those renters, you’re going to pick someone whose going to care for the property, that’s going to be a good neighbor.”
Logan Municipal Council Member Amy Anderson has been among outspoken opponents of H.B. 82, and in an interview with The Herald Journal on Tuesday she said she still opposes the bill despite the compromises made so far.
“I appreciate the intent of trying to increase affordable housing in the state of Utah. It might increase housing, but there’s no guarantee it will increase affordable housing,” she said. “There are no parameters in the bill, for example, that require somebody who’s putting in an ADU to provide the housing at the low to moderate income levels, so if truly the goal is to have affordable housing, why not write that into the bill.”
Anderson agreed strongly with Logan’s mayor that the 2021 legislative session has seen an overabundance of efforts to foist state mandates on local government. In addition to the ADU bill, she specifically cited measures to loosen local building inspection regulations and prohibit cities from writing ordinances that govern types of building materials that are allowed in construction.
“That’s a pretty big overstep of local zoning and local building,” she said. “I still strongly believe that every city has the obligation and the right to determine how a city should grow and how zoning should work.”