The fireworks in the Planning Commission meeting on August 20 came from a slightly unexpected source. Stew Ferber wanted to build some duplex housing for his employees in the Zion Shadows subdivision. The neighbors objected. But in the end, things worked out OK. Here’s what happened.
Multifamily and affordable housing is something that the Planning Commission and the Town Council in Springdale have championed for quite a while. The Future of Springdale survey revealed that Springdale citizen’s don’t think multifamily housing is such a good thing and this came as a shock to the people running the town. The reason why this revelation was a shock reveals something important for them and for the people just living here.
The people running the town mainly see the cost and problems of a lack of affordable housing. It’s harder to get people to drive up here for the relatively low wage jobs available in the tourist business. SR9 is crowded at six in the morning. Former mayor Phil Bimstein wrote a song about the plight of people driving up from Hurricane, day after day. Stew had a lot to say about the advantages of permanent employees that stick with you, year after year. Dean Cook (Zion Park Inn) has made that same point. In Town Council meetings, I’ve heard them say that a diverse community is a better community and that’s undoubtedly true … but that’s not what drives the town to offer incentives for business to actually create places for employees to live here. The driving force is that it’s better for business.
In the Future of Springdale survey, Tom Dansie hasn’t added much text of his own, but he did include this comment: “The Town of Springdale provides a wide array of services to its residents and guests—more services than most cities several times the size. These services include a full time police department, extensive water and waste water systems, parks and recreation.” That’s all very true. Do you enjoy the dog park? Thank a hotel. Do you like the nice new trail? Tell a restaurant about how grateful you are.
Once a town like Springdale makes the choice to sell their municipal soul to commercial prosperity, this is what you get. One of the neighbors remarked, “The rest of you might think it’s beautiful, but I don’t want to live across the street from a La Quinta hotel. I’d like to live across the street from a house.” I agree, but that isn’t Springdale … anymore … and we do get a lot in return. Stew’s proposal to add to his investment in Springdale isn’t the problem. Stew has done a good job of putting attractive, high quality lipstick on his well-designed and well-built pigs. There’s a completely different issue that Springdale is dodging and this is a perfect example. That issue is communication.
Joe Pitti, Planning Commission chairman, said several times, “This is not a public hearing and there is no obligation to take input from the public, but I’m allowing the public to speak anyway.” Tom said that notification to the community for changes like this was only a courtesy, not a requirement. And one of the complaining neighbors said, “I don’t know when the email announcing this meeting went out. I just found out about it. The rest of the neighbors aren’t here because there hasn’t been enough time. Is there some way we could give the rest of the neighbors more time to think about this?” For his part, Stew mainly wanted to talk about how he was completely within his legal rights and he spent $50,000 proving that the last time he was challenged on it. He seemed eager to spend another $50,000 on lawyers.
The entire affair was a massive disconnect. It would have helped a lot if everyone there could have seen it, just a little bit, from the point of view of the person on the other side of the room. Making the effort to talk to your neighbors, instead of meeting them toe-to-toe in a formal meeting, could help a lot.
The end result wasn’t too bad, however. Chairman Pitti and Commissioner Marriott saw that more time really should be allowed for neighbors to look at the project and make a more considered decision about it. Stew seemed quite willing to make changes to his project … within limits. So, in the end, the application was tabled and will be considered again in a later meeting. That was a good thing!
In my seven years on the Planning Commission, I can only remember a few times when something was tabled because there always seemed to be pressure to reach a conclusion as soon as possible. It was as though a hasty decision was better than any delay. In last night’s meeting, two agenda items were tabled because they just weren’t ready for a decision yet.
The real benefit took place after the meeting. Stew and his neighbors talked things over for quite a while in the parking lot. That was a good thing too!
But maybe I’m all wrong. What do you think?