City about to lower quorum requirements for Planning and Historic Landmarks Commissions

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In the heat of budget season, with the dry wind of a September 1 deadline at their backs to approve a sales tax hike and a development agreement with Smith Entertainment Group for a sports, entertainment, and convention district Downtown, the Mendenhall Administration has prepped the deck for some changes for decision-making citizen boards in the Planning Division that look to sail through the City Council.

In fact, given the Council’s jammed schedule and the item’s seemingly innocuous nature, it won’t be even scheduled for public discussion before a full vote.

As we reported as recently as December, the Planning Commission has been at risk of suspending its ability to meet and review applications given it dipping below the required number of members.

Current city code stipulates that “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 Historic Landmarks Commission, meanwhile, is required to have at least seven members, with both boards limited to 11.

At times those levels of participation have been difficult to meet, given members’ resignations, term expirations, and likely lack of anticipation by planning administrators in charge of keeping the boards staffed up.

According to the City Council staff report prepared for the briefing, “Planning staff initially recommended eliminating the minimum number of members for both commissions, though State statute requires no less than two members. Both the Historic Landmark and Planning Commission members felt two members was too few and voted to forward the five-member minimum recommendation to the Council.”

Both the Historic Landmarks and Planning Commissions forwarded positive recommendations to the City Council.

In addition, the Administration’s Appeals Officer is currently limited to two consecutive five-year terms. The changes propose lifting those term limits. The current Appeals Officer, Mary Woodhead, a practicing attorney and former Planning Commissioner, has recently ruled on some high-profile cases, including a rejection of a neighborhood group’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of Capitol Park Cottages in the upper Avenues. 

City Council’s staff report noted, “The proposal would remove this term limit and allow Officers to continue serving if the Mayor and City Council are in support.” 

When asked when the City Council might vote on the measure, staff told us “it could be anytime after the June 4 Council Meeting.” Apparently, the Council’s agendas look to be dedicated to other more pressing issues this summer.

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.