St. George deals with challenges of expansion

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    By EMILY SANDERSO

    Southern Utah’s Dixie is famous for its red and black rock deposits which make up the unique bluffs surrounding St. George. The bluffs on the east and the west of the city, which were formed by erosion only yesterday in geologic time, shape colorful sunrises and sunsets.

    The area, which has been a small town for most of Utah’s history, has experienced immense growth during the last decade, from 40,000 to 70,000 in population.

    Members of the community have taken actions to protect the area’s natural beauty and to protect the quality of life in St. George and surrounding towns.

    Land developers, who have been thriving in the area for the last decade, are now facing the possibility of added restrictions in their work in an act to preserve the hillsides.

    A hillside ordinance, which will be considered by the St. George City Council today, would restrict developers more than the current hillside ordinance, which was passed in 1992. It would permit only one home per acre instead of four and increase the distance of setbacks from 30 to 50 feet on less-steep hillsides, according to a Jan. 22 article in the St. George Spectrum. It would also require a 100-foot setback for steeper hills.

    “There were some irresponsible actions taken on the west black ridge (regarding) cuts to the hill,” said Jim McGuire, associate planning director of the St. George Community Development Department, “but other cuts were in accordance to existing ordinances.”

    McGuire said the ordinance would require developers “to work with the natural contours of the hillside.” Architecture of buildings would need to be shaped and colored so that they would fit in with the hillside.

    But Southern Utah Home Builder’s Association has different feelings toward the action.

    Carol Sapp, executive officer of SUHBA, said they agreed to support the recommendations for changes to the hillside ordinance of 1992 that were made by a study group. The association was convinced the board would find the ordinance to be overly protective of the hillsides involving the rate of growth and the appearance of the hillsides. But they were wrong — the board recommended measures that were more strict.

    “We are not totally for (the ordinance), but we won’t make any comment against it,” Sapp said.

    “We just really feel that it is OK to preserve the hillsides if that’s what people want,” she said, “but it’s important that people who own property are rightfully compensated.”

    Sapp said a lesser density on the hills might be more damaging to them because of increased road cuts, which can change the contours of the land sometimes more noticeably than houses that are closer together.

    The ordinance was passed by the St. George Planning Commission, made up of nine private residents, after almost four months of changes, according to the Spectrum article.

    The council members were under a lot of pressure because of the intense feelings in town surrounding past measures.

    The initiative, which was turned down by an almost three-quarters majority, proposed that St. George limit its growth to three percent of the total. This would limit the number of building permits given out and raise realty rates.

    “The city is experiencing a period of intense residential development which is adversely affecting the capacity of the streets to meet traffic demands, the capacity of parking facilities in business and other areas, the capacity of area schools to absorb children in an orderly way, the historic character of the community, the quality of life which has characterized this community and the cost to households of utilities and municipal services,” the initiative said.

    Drafted by the Citizens For Moderate Growth, the initiative would have been effective for land within the St. George city limits.

    The area, which has been a retirement community for the last three decades, is now booming with new residents, many of which are young families from out-of-state, said Bill Sampson, business manager for the Washington County School District.

    This has caused some unrest among long-time residents, but even more of a problem is that the schools are not equipped to handle so many children.

    There are 17,391 students in Washington County School District, which is up from 13,325 students in 1990 and up from 9500 students in 1985. This is a growth of about 700 to 800 students a year, said Cal Durfey, assistant superintendent of the district.

    The school district is the eighth largest and fastest growing district in Utah, he said.

    The school district is up for a bond election in June which will provide more funds from the state. The last bond election in 1994 brought in $33 million, and it was thought to last four years, Durfey said.

    The bond election in June is proposing at this time that the district receive $50.2 million, said Marta Murvosh, the education reporter for the Spectrum.

    But she said the rise in funds will be equaled out with higher realty and construction costs, which have risen in the last few years because of mass growth in the area.

    Sampson said the district has received almost no money from the state to help them out with growth.

    “We are kind of feeling like it’s unjust,” he said, noting that Granite School District in Salt Lake lost 1,500 students last year but still received $1.5 million. “Alpine School District, which gained 700 students last year, qualified for $2.9 million.”

    Sampson said the state gives school districts money for operational costs. They receive building funds from local property taxes.

    “They are forcing us to raise our tax levy,” he said. “The way the format is structured, they assume that we are getting enough money from property taxes because of the growth.”

    Other issues being addressed in St. George and the surrounding towns, including Washington, Bloomington, Ivins and Enterprise, are problems with traffic, the quality of life and water, as stated in Initiative A: Moderate Growth, which was presented to St. George voters in Nov. 1995.

    Wayne McArthur, director of the Water and Power Department for the county, said they are currently doubling the size of the water treatment plant, enabling it to treat 20 instead of 10 million gallons each day.

    They will be energizing two new wells this month by the Gunlock Reservoir nearby, and they will be digging for more wells in four other locations in the area, he said.

    If these turn out to be dry, the department will resort to transferring water to the area from Lake Powell, McArthur said.

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