Ivins Council makes compromises while approving more funds to improve Old Dixie Highway 91

IVINS — In a meeting marked by compromises, the Ivins City Council approved additional funding Thursday night for a project underway to widen and improve Old Dixie Highway 91 through Ivins, while also approving a last-minute change in the project to avoid the properties of three homeowners. 

Public Works Director Chuck Gillespie discusses the Old Dixie Highway 91 project at the Ivins City Council, Ivins, Utah, Feb. 16, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

It also approved a rezoning of a little under 10 acres near the Vista School along 200 North for single-family homes after developers worked with nearby residents and the city on scaling down previous plans for a larger, mixed residential and commercial development.

In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the council approved an additional $499,000 of city funds toward the highway project for widening and repaving between 200 West and Fire Lake Park, as well as adding two roundabouts, bike lanes and a pedestrian trail.

The first of the two-phase project – the trail to Fire Lake Park and the widening/repaving between 200 West and Kwavasa Drive – started last week and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The second phase to finish the widening/repaving from Kwavasa to Fire Lake Park will come next.

“We know we have a desperate need to fix the road and this project,” Ivins Public Works Director Chuck Gillette told the council during their meeting at Ivins City Hall. He compared what the finished product will look like to Snow Canyon Parkway on the northern end of the city. “This is Snow Canyon Parkway with more landscaping.”

The first phase will include new roundabouts at 400 West and Kwavasa Drive. 

A 2023 map showing the Old Dixie Highway 91 improvement project | Photo courtesy of Ivins City, St. George News

The additional funding is designed to be a contingency, Gillette said, to $2 million in federal funding that was earmarked for the second phase of the project being moved to the under-construction first phase. The rearranging of funds is to help pay for additional improvements on the first phase, including irrigation lines now as opposed to after the road’s construction. 

“It’s a no-brainer to put pipelines in now while we have roads torn up so we don’t have to tear up the roads later,” Gillette said. 

Gillette said by moving the federal and state funding to phase one and using only city funds for phase two, there will be fewer regulatory hurdles.

“It may have less cost on phase two without federal involvement,” Gillette said. 

Also being moved is the road itself — slightly south at 400 West — after a homeowner came to the council concerned that the city would be taking part of her property. 

Council member Lance Anderson, whose developments at Kayenta are at the west end of the planned highway improvements, has been negotiating with three homeowners whose properties sit next to where the roundabout will be built at 400 West for additional right of way. 

Anderson reached an agreement with two of the homeowners, but not a third resident whose property is sandwiched in the middle. Gillette said Anderson asked the public works staff to consider using eminent domain for the remaining right of way – a suggestion Gillette said his staff did not agree with. 

That homeowner, Kendra Thomas, accused Anderson during the council meeting of trying to get the city to take part of her property in bad faith. 

Resident Kendra Thomas speaks to the Ivins City Council, Ivins, Utah, Feb. 16, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I don’t understand why Lance is trying to get eminent domain of our property,” Thomas said. “The reason we moved to Ivins is to have the space. It’s frustrating, I have a third child on the way and this brings things closer to my front door and my kids and my cows. Do what they did on Bluff Street and move around the property and do it the right way.”

Anderson disputed the characterization.

“I keep being accused it’s for my benefit. It’s for my benefit because I live in Ivins,” Anderson said. “I believe in it, not because it would make me rich. I believe for the rest of us, that’s the minimum we can do in the interest of the city.”

Mayor Chris Hart asked Gillette if it was feasible to move the part of the road near the three properties slightly south to accommodate the homeowners. Gillette said it was, even though the work is in progress – possibly by just changing the exit point of the new roundabout.

“If you can make it work, I’m OK with it,” Anderson said. “I don’t want to take anyone’s property.”

Including in the motion the change at 400 West, the council unanimously approved the additional funds. 

200 North rezoning approved

Between responses to the Ivins citywide survey that were frigid to the idea of more development to the ongoing dispute involving The Retreat short-term rental development, residential and commercial builders have been facing opposition in Ivins.

Sharon Gillespie is one of the leaders of the resident lobbying group Defenders of Greater Ivins that is part of an ongoing lawsuit to overturn the city’s rezoning for The Retreat developers. But on Thursday, Gillespie took to the podium to give kudos to the developer of a residential homes project planned for 200 North.

Map of planned residental project on 200 North between Park Avenue Way and 400 East in Ivins, Utah | Photo courtesy of Ivins City, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“It’s weird to give you good news,” Gillespie, who lives in The Palisades right next to Kamas-Outback’s project, told the council. “The original presentation from last year concerned us but we are very pleased as a neighborhood.”

Gillespie said she and other residents are appreciative the developer’s representatives heard neighbors’ concerns about initial plans for a so-called “Ivins City Center” mixed residential and commercial plan and scaled it down. 

The new plan, approved unanimously by the council Thursday, is for 21 single-family homes on 9.5 acres of land along 200 North between Park Avenue Way and 400 East – down from the 31 homes originally intended for the site. 

“We’ve turned down a number of commercial uses that we thought were incompatible. It doesn’t sound like there is much enthusiasm for a city center,” attorney Tim Anderson, representing Kamas-Outback, said. “We have the right to do what we want with the property, but we are doing what we think is most acceptable and compatible with the city.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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