In split vote, Cedar City Council creates new zoning ordinance in hope of easing affordable housing pinch

Cedar City Council members in discussion, Cedar City, Utah, June 2, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News/Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — The Cedar City Council took a tentative step towards addressing the city’s extreme shortage of affordable housing Wednesday night when it approved, by a split 3-2 vote, an amendment to its general plan that will create a new zone.

This subdivision in Parowan is an example of the kind of housing in a Residential Neighborhood Zone, Parowan, Utah | Photo by Tyler Melling, St. George News/Cedar City News

The objective of establishing the new Residential Neighborhood Zone (RNZ), according to language in the amendment, “…is to encourage the creation and maintenance of new subdivisions within the City which allow for smaller, more narrow building lots for owner-occupants.” 

Council member Tyler Melling, who spent several hours over months shepherding the amendment through multiple Planning Commission and Town Council meetings, spoke with Cedar City News about his reaction to Wednesday night’s vote.

“I’m glad. I think it shows a willingness to try new things in small doses,” Melling said. “The version that passed is a much more watered-down version than the one originally proposed.

“Basically it’s saying that if you want to build on a lot that is a little more efficient and narrower, then you can do that,” he added. “It’s pretty conservative and not an extreme version of what was proposed.”

Melling talked about two layers of the affordable housing problem.

“One is that those who are working and making living wages cannot afford to purchase a home. Homeownership is not available in Cedar City to most of our working class,” he said.

“The other is the rental issue,” Melling added. “This is driven by those working-class families who can afford to pay $1,600 to $2,000 a month in rent but can’t qualify to buy a home. Then students and seniors get squeezed out because there’s no places to rent.”

The RNZ is tailored specifically to working-class families at the top end of the market, helping them get ownership of small family homes in nice neighborhoods. Then, Melling said, hopefully the bottom end of the market, the students and seniors, will benefit when more affordable rentals become available.

One of the defining points of the RNZ, in the language of the amendment, “…is its use of mandatory covenants which place limits on non-owner-occupied uses to prioritize sustainability, affordability, and permanency.” 

This restriction is in place so property owners who choose to rent out homes in an RNZ must follow strict Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CCR’s), enforced by a Home Owner’s Association (HOA), that limits the number of non-owner-occupied rental units to 30% or fewer units in the subdivision.

Over the course of public hearings and council discussions, this was the main sticking point in the proposed zoning.

Mayor Maille Wilson-Edwards put the question to Melling Wednesday night the same way it had been put to her by many Cedar City citizens: “For a community that likes the least amount of government intrusion, why would we want the city to be the ones governing that aspect?”

Melling said that the purpose of the RNZ is to provide owner-occupied homes that are well kept and maintained.

“I’m worried about the work product if we don’t have that (30% limitation),” Melling answered. “But if that’s the only way to have this tried out, if the council wants to strike that, I am amenable. But I just don’t think we’ll get the product that we’re hoping for.”  

Council member Craig Isom, who cast a Nay vote along with council member Ron Adams, spoke up at that point.

“The required covenants, I just don’t like imposing those,” Isom said. “I think the market should determine this. I just don’t feel comfortable with those.”

Melling said it is worth giving the RNZ a chance.

“With the covenants, the way I see it, we can pass it with them in today, and the worst-case scenario is it’s too onerous, and we have to change the ordinance and relax standards later,” he said. “I say let’s give it a shot and get some information.”

He added that if the RNZ just ends up totally unattractive because people don’t want the city in their business and don’t want the council regulating it, then it can always be changed later.

“I would much rather deal with the consequences of that approach, than the approach of not putting something in that we wish we had later,” Melling said. 

Council member Scott Phillips made the motion to amend the city’s general land use plan and create the Residential Neighborhood Zone. Council member Terri Hartley seconded and the motion passed to a smattering of applause.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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