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Pandora's Box

Many of us have heard this story…and the result. There are many interpretations of this story from Greek mythology and there are times it is often used as a warning. This is one of those times.

One version of the story goes: “Opening the box, Pandora released a swarm of evils into the world. It was a deluge of miseries, encompassing envy, greed, pain, sorrow, disease and countless others. When she quickly closed the box, one thing stayed trapped inside…Hope.”

Now, I don’t think we quite have to worry about these extremes in Ivins, but we have recently seen an example of what can happen when the City Government approves a zoning change and the impending result. There will be one discussed tonight at the City Council meeting.

Two examples come to mind:

1) Project on Highway 91 – zoning approved for Resort Commercial with Short Term Overlay. It was the property owner's right to request this and well within the council's power to approve. The developer presented a preliminary plan showing 95 short-term rentals in the development. (This is also discussed in the minutes as 95 several times.) We may not like it, we may not have wanted it, but there it is, and it was approved. Fast forward…the land is currently for sale! Again, totally the owner’s property right, only now, it is being advertised to have “capacity” for 300 short-term rentals. There is likely nothing that can be done about it. We have opened a Pandora’s Box it seems.

2) Project on SITLA 120 property – The Developer requested Resort Mixed Use with short-term overlay zoning and it was approved. The developer claimed they were doing 243 short-term rentals. Again, fast forward to this past week…that number has now moved to 393 short-term rentals. The reason? The market conditions. In one section – the “motor court” they will be building 1000 square foot units to jam more in so they can make a better profit. It seems we have opened another Pandora’s Box.

The challenge? Much of this is out of our control. The Land Use Map shows the city planners' vision for the land and so it can be approved as such. There are 49 different “uses” under the Resort Commercial zoning and 51 different “uses” under the Resort Mixed Use zoning. Once the RC or RMU zoning is approved… virtually any of these multiple uses can be built.

The concern for me is not what the developer or landowner is initially proposing at the time of the zone change request, but what can come after. An important fact, previously stated, is that once the zoning is approved, that stays with the land so that even if it is sold, the new owner still has that zoning and the 49 or 51 different uses they can develop and may have an entirely different vision in mind and there is little we can do about it. In addition, the RC zone does not specify density, again opening Pandora’s Box as we see with both examples above.

This is the concern with approving RC and RMU zone changes. It may seem reasonable today, but with the potential of Pandora’s Box, will it be in the future? It may not be with the drama of evils, miseries and disease as the myth portrays but it feels like Hope is still trapped inside.

I just hope we move forward carefully going forward. The two markets above are ripe for investors to scoop up as we are seeing nationwide.

Neither provides for any moderate-income housing (it is understood that the 1000 sq foot motor court units will average $400,000 each.)

I have been doing a lot of reading on city planning and city government as I hope to serve Ivins. One book suggests that in order for cities and towns to survive they must stop betting on huge irreversible projects and start building on how our places actually work and what our neighbors need today. Food for thought…

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