After resignations, the SLC Planning Commission doesn’t have enough members to meet (for now)

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After a string of resignations in recent months, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission no longer has enough members to conduct business, according to the city’s ordinance establishing rules for the public body.

After the resignations of Andra Ghent and Turner Bitton late last month, along with architect Jon Lee earlier this year, the Planning Commission has eight active volunteer members, short of the nine required by city law.

The resignations have left Mayor Erin Mendenhall rushing to appoint members to the body that makes land use decisions for the capital city.

“The Planning Commission shall consist of at least nine (9) up to a maximum of eleven (11) voting members, appointed from among qualified electors of the City in a manner providing balanced geographic, professional, neighborhood and community interests representation,” the ordinance says.

The commission is scheduled to meet on Wednesday despite the shortage of members and a lack of information from city officials about what happens when there are fewer than nine members on the commission.

It may be a temporary issue, as the City Council is set to consider appointing a new member during its Tuesday meeting. But in the face of the member shortage, the mayor is asking for the city to change the law that sets the minimum number of members.

Ghent resigned from the commission last month, saying the body lacked authority and power to effect change in the city.

“I’m disappointed at the lack of knowledge of urban economics and/or real estate among some of my fellow commissioners,” she said. “In addition to wasting meeting time explaining basic concepts, the lack of expertise frequently leads to poor decisions.”

Commissioner Turner Bitton, who was appointed this year, also announced he would vacate his position at the end of November. Bitton, a long-time west side organizer and advocate, recently launched a housing advocacy nonprofit. He’s also the chair of the Glendale Community Council.

Jon Lee, an architect who represented District 5, left the commission in August and didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Building Salt Lake began asking the mayor’s office and city attorney about what happens if the commission doesn’t have enough members under the city’s ordinance on Nov. 30.

The Salt Lake City Attorney’s Office has not responded to several requests for comment about the matter.

The mayor’s office has also not answered questions about the string of vacancies.

Instead, spokesman Andrew Wittenberg said the mayor was looking to appoint members who could represent districts 5 and 6 on the commission.

“I’m told we are moving through additional applicants quickly and they are from D5 and D6,” Wittenberg said.

District 5, which is home to the Ballpark, Liberty Wells and East Liberty Park neighborhoods, is currently the only City Council district without representation on the Planning Commission.

Mendenhall filed a new request last week asking the city to no longer require at least nine people on the commission.

On Dec. 6, the mayor’s staff asked Mendenhall to sign off on getting rid of the nine-member floor.

“The proposal is to delete the minimum membership requirements so that if there is an instance that we have one or more unexpected resignations, the commissions can still conduct business and make land use decisions,” the memo says. (The change would also apply to the Historic Landmark Commission, which currently has enough members to meet the city’s own requirements.)

It’s not clear whether there’s a lack of interest in serving on the commission that reviews development, zoning changes and other land use requests in the city, or why the city might want to remove the floor for members over a temporary issue.

The City Council appears ready to avoid the short-term uncertainty of the commission meeting without nine people this week. The council is poised to appoint Brian Scott, an architect who works for Councilman Darin Mano’s architecture firm, to the commission during its meeting on Tuesday. Scott would represent District 5 if appointed.

In the wake of the trio of departures, the City Council appointed a University of Utah graduate student and filmmaker to the council to represent the west side.

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.