A controversial set of ordinances passed by the San Juan County Commission intended to govern growth in Spanish Valley could potentially head to the ballot, after a petition seeking a county-wide referendum was allowed to go forward.
At the Dec. 3 Commission meeting, San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws brought the citizen-initiated petition before commissioners. If the petition is ultimately successful, the referendum would mean that the ordinances, which were passed as a set, would go on the next ballot for the county’s voters to consider.
“At this meeting, we’re not determining whether the county supports or doesn’t support the referendum. It’s solely about whether it meets the legal requirements that would send it to the next phase,” Laws said.
“State law was overhauled quite a bit this year in regard to referendums,” said Laws, offering his office’s formal opinion that the petition was legal under current Utah law and should be allowed to proceed. Utah legislators approved five different bills this year, changing many aspects of the initiative process including changing signature requirements and review processes, according to Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that provides information on government policy.
Current state law required that the county make a determination on whether the petition meets the legal requirements within 20 days after the petition was filed. The Dec. 3 meeting was the only meeting that met those requirements, and if the Commission had taken no action the petition would automatically go to the ballot, said Laws.
The commissioners approved Law’s recommendation without comment.
The ordinances being challenged were approved by the San Juan County Commission on Nov. 19 after years of work.
In 2017, the county hired Landmark Design to prepare an area plan, zoning map and write draft ordinances anticipating development needs for the area. The company returned a draft plan in September, which was referred to the San Juan County Planning and Zoning Commission for review. The committee made some controversial recommended edits to the plan, including the elimination of ordinances related to outdoor lighting and signs, those regulating overnight accommodations and those protecting local streams.
Trent Schafer, a member of the San Juan County Planning and Zoning Commission who attended the Nov. 19 meeting, said that the committee viewed the Landmark Design plans as “a lot of government overreach.”
Many Spanish Valley residents spoke during public comment, calling the Planning and Zoning Commission edits a serious undercutting of many ordinances. Commissioners Ken Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes agreed, voting to approve the Landmark Design plans with some adjustments to the draft zoning maps concerning gravel pits. The vote was 2-1, with Commissioner Bruce Adams in opposition.
In order to be approved for the ballot, supporters of the challenge must now collect a specific number of petition signatures, a percentage tied to the number of active voters in the county.
“The only other requirement is that the county budget officer must do a fiscal analysis of the referendum and my office must do a legal analysis...about the implications for the county both legally and financially,” said Laws. “Other than that, the process goes along and the county is really just along for the ride.”