‘This is one of our most sacred spaces’: St. George Council denies Divario developer rezoning request

Photo of sign listing the Divario project's specs and amenities located in the dirt lot at W. Canyon View Drive and Gap Canyon Drive, St. George News, Nov. 6, 2020 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The St. George City Council denied an application at their Thursday meeting to re-zone a parcel of land within the master planned Divario community from single-family residential to planned development residential.

The developer, Davies Design Build, intended to build four three-story apartment buildings on a 24-acre parcel situated at the intersection of West Canyon View Drive and Gap Canyon Drive, which overlooks Gap Canyon.

Council members raised various issues with the current proposal — including increased traffic in the area, maintaining the views and access to trails  — however, the applicants said their plan would minimize impact on all of those fronts, while bringing more affordable housing to the city.

Despite the assertion by developers, Councilwoman Dannielle Larkin said she still believes the visual impact wasn’t being taken into account.

“This is one of our most sacred spaces,” Larkin said. “We want low visual impact at this site. The product that they’re proposing has the potential for high impact and shows a real lack of understanding about what Gap Canyon means to the community.”

Gap Canyon at sunset. Councilwoman Dannielle Larkin praised Southern Utah’s views as the area’s most valuable natural resource and said that it’s important to keep these trails open for use, St. George, Utah, Nov. 6, 2020 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Larkin said that, besides water, the land and the views are Southern Utah’s most valuable resources. Though the city can’t legally protect an individual’s viewshed from a neighboring house that’s being built, Larkin said that they must take every step to protect that view for the city’s residents, as well as visitors.

“We’ve got to take the overall view into account here,” she said. “We don’t want this to be another Snow Canyon, where we allowed some houses to be built, and now they’re a permanent part of the view. Every time I look at those houses, I wonder if we did the right thing.”

Rod Packer, a member of the sales team at Divario, said the council had misunderstood a number of points along the way to denying the rezoning application.

“I really don’t know where to begin,” he said. “It seems like some of the council members don’t know the agreements we’ve made with the city over the years. Under the plan we proposed, we would disturb much less land than any of our previous plans.”

Packer said that single-family homes must be spread out, but the apartments they are wanting to build would be “nestled against the Estancia building.”

“We have 24 acres of land to work with. These apartments — 216 in total — would only take up between 6 and 8 acres. That would leave the rest of the area, about 16 acres of land, undisturbed.”

An aerial shot of the intersection where West Canyon Drive and Gap Canyon Drive meet. The open space near the center of the frame is where the parking lot would be placed, said Rod Packer, who works sales for the Divario Development Group, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Divario Development Group, St. George News

Packer said he found the council’s desire to keep the view as clear as possible ironic, considering the city wasn’t thinking about the view when they built a power line that runs along the west side of Gap Canyon Drive.

Beyond the views, Councilman Gregg McArthur expressed his own concerns, which were echoed by others.

“There’s a clustered aspect to the parking,” McArthur said. “And I’m concerned about maintaining access to the trails.”

Larkin agreed.

“We need to encourage people to continue to use this land as they always have,” she said. “We want to draw people there, instead of closing them out.”

While many mountain biking competitions have been held on the land, including True Grit Epic and Red Mountain Rampage, John Jensen, a developer at Davies Build Design, said that today most of the people who use the land are trespassing. As such, he took issue with what he saw as the council siding with people who are breaking the law.

“It seems like the city is asking us to accommodate trespassers,” he said. “Divario owns 730 acres of land there, and people are trespassing on it every day. Meanwhile, we’ve already agreed to develop the land so that the city may build a park there.”

Packer said that he felt his team had worked hard to accommodate recreation enthusiasts, even if they are breaking the law.

“We’ve been working with the mountain biking community for a long time,” he said. “We’ve provided parking, and access to those who want to ride those trails.”

Mark Teepen, a member of Divario’s development group, also spoke up during the meeting and said their plan would preserve an extra 200 acres and that they had worked with the city throughout the process to keep access to the natural canyons open to the public.

When the council ultimately suggested the application be denied, City Attorney Shawn Guzman chimed in and said council members “must give reason and direction on the record.”

Though much of the council’s reasoning had already been discussed, Larkin and McArthur repeated their concerns, and the council voted unanimously to deny the application.

Jensen said he was surprised by the council’s decision.

“Our proposal passed the planning commission 5-0,” he said. “The density was already agreed upon in the land use agreement. That’s what I don’t understand. Ultimately, I think our expectations aren’t aligned.”

Jensen said that he hopes to spend time with city officials to find common ground.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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