Bill to allow construction of starter homes won’t get a hearing in Utah House

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A bill that would have prevented cities from blocking new single-family homes on smaller lots is on its way to a swift death at the Utah Capitol, the proposal’s author told Building Salt Lake on Monday.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, had proposed HB306 as a way to allow the construction of affordable single-family homes in cities that have used their zoning authority to restrict housing supply. The bill would have required most cities and towns to allow up to eight homes per acre if the new homes met certain requirements.

Ward’s bill has lingered at the Capitol during the first three weeks of the rapid-fire, 45-day legislative session. Last week, it was assigned to the House Political Subdivisions Committee, where Ward said it doesn’t have enough support.

“I couldn’t scrape up enough support really to be close,” Ward said in a brief phone call Monday. “So in the end it won’t get a hearing.”

HB306 faced opposition from the Utah League of Cities and Towns, a lobbying group that typically opposes state-level changes to municipal powers. It also failed to win over allies in the House and among other powerful lobbying groups, Ward said.

The bill would have required cities to allow builders to create single-family homes on lots that amounted to 5,400 square feet as long as the homes sold for less than the town’s median home price.

The bill sought to work around some of the most potent tools cities use to restrict housing supple: large minimum lot sizes.

It was also in line with the stated goals of Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who has made it a priority to usher in the revival of the starter home in Utah. (Cox’s office has not responded to requests for comment about Ward’s bill.)

“I still really believe in the concept a lot,” Ward said, but “me, by myself, will go nowhere.”

“I just didn’t really have any other friends who are all in on it,” Ward added. “And I had a lot of enemies.”

Sources say that House Speaker Mike Schulz, R-Hooper, is working on a separate bill related to zoning, but. that the bill won’t go nearly as far as Ward’s would have to promote housing construction.

Another bill in the Senate that was supposedly in line with Ward’s never materialized, and it appears the Legislature is on pace to avoid meaningful policymaking this session around housing creation.

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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.