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Holladay Journal

Implementation of state affordable housing bill causing headaches at Holladay City Hall

Oct 21, 2019 02:06PM ● By Zak Sonntag

Paul Allred, community development director, is frustrated with the state over its handling of SB 34 requiring all cities to incorporate affordable housing elements to their general plans. (Zak Sonntag/City Journals)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

For several months, Holladay city planners have worked furiously on proposals to amend the General Plan in order to comply with a new state law that requires municipalities to incorporate strategies to advance affordable housing. 

But when in October the planning commission geared up for a recommendation on the most divisive aspect of the required changes — the land use chapter of the General Plan — they were flummoxed to learn the deadline was later than expected.

“You don’t have to do anything on this right now. We have another 14 months before our land-use and transportation modifications are due,” said Paul Allred, community development director, who hired an extra intern to get everything completed in time. “I’ve been killing myself on this thing. Then I just learned we only need the housing element done, and we have till next year to finish the land-use and transportation elements.” 

The confusion stems primarily from ambiguity in both the language of the bill as well as its implementation and oversight process. 

The law, SB 34, requires municipalities like Holladay to incorporate a “moderate income housing element” in their general plans, in order to allow “people with various incomes to benefit from and fully participate in all aspects of the community life.” 

It also asks cities to adjust the land-use and transportation elements of their plans for this purpose, which Holladay planners interpreted to mean that three separate chapters of the General Plan needed to be updated. 

However, the agency charged with overseeing the bill’s implementation, Department of Workforce Services, explained to Allred in October that cities were required only to submit their housing amendments.  

“I’m frustrated with the state right now, and I think a lot of cities are. Not only have they passed an unfunded mandate, but they’ve been vague about how they expect cities to meet it,” Allred told the commission.

At the date of publication, some uncertainty still lingered.

The Holladay Journal contacted the bill’s authors, state representatives Jake Anderegg and Val Potter, who both responded by email to say that the deadline was, indeed, approaching fast.

“Cities are expected to have their plans in place by Dec. 1, 2019,” Potter said.

Anderegg followed up to confirm that he “just reread the bill and I cannot find any references to the deadline being 2020.”

Allred suggested the commission retain momentum and vote to move the amendment process to the city council for the next phase. 

But the commission resoundingly declined.  

“Amending the General Plan is a big deal. We need to slow this thing way down,” Commissioner Troy Holbrook said. 

The decision to close the process was applauded by community members who said the draft left many of their concerns unaddressed.

“I appreciate the fact that you’re willing to let the public have an impact. We need to consider [the amendments] with the heart and soul of our community. If we make a change now that is a little bit hasty, we might regret it down the road,” said Holly Richards, homeowner, whose neighborhood was subject to zoning changes under the prepared draft. 

For now, despite some uncertainty, city officials feel confident they will be in compliance with the law.

But the issue of affordability still looms, and as housing costs continue to rise in the city and across the state, the commission’s next attempt to recommend a proposal might not be a whole lot easier.