IVINS — In its last meeting of the year and before a transition where 60% of its members will change, the Ivins City Council rejected a request for a developer to build high-density, multi-family housing on land in the center of the city while moving forward on two other developments.

Ivins City Council member Jenny Johnson during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Dec. 21, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Developer Brent Ence came to the council with a request to rezone just under 2 acres of land at the corner of Main Street and 200 South from a minimum 12,500-square-foot, single-family home medium-density to high-density, multi-family residential.

Last month, the city’s Planning Commission recommended against the rezoning but did recommend a compromise with 7,500-square-foot, single-family lots.

In a 4-1 vote during the Thursday night meeting at Ivins City Hall, the council concurred with the decision by the Planning Commission, rejecting Ence’s rezoning request but allowing for single-family homes at a higher density.

The council had received a petition signed by 79 residents opposing the rezoning. Among those signing was Councilmember Jenny Johnson, who lives near the land. 

Johnson, in her last meeting on the council, said as a signee of the petition she was OK with the compromise. 

“I grew up in Ivins with large lots and would like it to stay this way,” Johnson said. “While I personally would like to see the large lots, I can live with the smaller lot.”

Along with Johnson, who wasn’t re-elected last month after being in office since 2016, the meeting was also the last for fellow Councilmembers Dennis Mehr and Adel Murphy – who both chose not to run for re-election. 

Developer Dennis Ence speaks before the Ivins City Council, Ivins, Utah, Dec. 21, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Two of the three council members replacing them next month, Sharon Gillespie and Sharon Barton, were in attendance Thursday. Both had taken a stance of slower growth in the election.

Along with wrapping up some business before an almost entirely new council takes over, another reason zoning and developer plans may have dominated the last meeting of 2023 is as of Jan. 1, cities like Ivins will have less say on the preliminary developments of residential projects after a move by the state Legislature. 

Dustin Ence, son of Brent, said they had wanted to rezone the area with high density as a way to bring more affordable housing to the city. 

“I’m in construction. I see numbers on housing every single day,” Ence told the council. “Luckily, I was fortunate enough to build a home before things went crazy but I don’t think I could build a home here today. I would like my kids to live here.”

Ultimately, both Ences told the council while they wanted the higher density, they were willing to abide by the compromise suggested by the Planning Commission.

But Councilmember Mike Scott said apartments or townhomes wouldn’t be in character with the other single-family neighborhoods nearby and parking could also become an issue. At the same time, he acknowledged the council and the city are in a tough place trying to weigh the need for affordable housing against demands by residents in the city to side against high-density residential neighborhoods in Ivins. 

Map showing the land at the corner of Main Street and 200 South in Ivins, Utah, shaded in red, that was considered for rezoning at the Ivins City Council’s Dec. 21, 2023 meeting | Map photo courtesy of Google Maps, illustration by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“Beyond the need for affordable housing, we have a mandate from the state to create affordable housing,” Scott said. “But we also have a mandate from the community not to increase density. It’s a tough balance.”

Scott said he would like to see the city take a look at an overall affordable housing solution throughout the city, rather than a lot-by-lot “piecemeal” approach. Scott was ultimately the one “no” vote as he said the zoning should have been kept as is, rather than the compromise. 

In other business, the council voted unanimously, 5-0, to agree to a preliminary plan by the developers of The Retreat residential and commercial resort complex at the corner of Puerto Drive and 400 South for its fifth through seventh phases. 

The plan includes an open zone for some ridgeline areas that had been in dispute over whether they qualified under the city’s sensitive lands ordinance. The Ivins Sensitive Lands Committee signed off on the plan as suitably protecting the scenic ridgelines and also said it complies with the city’s new sensitive land ordinance

The council also unanimously approved an amendment to the public entity that will be charging additional property taxes specifically for those who will live at the new Black Desert Resort that will be used to pay off the bond issued by the city for its construction.

The amendment removes an artificial $10 million debt limit to the Black Desert Resort public infrastructure district that was established by the council back in 2021

The developers of the resort say the rise of inflation since then has more than doubled the price of some of the materials being used to complete the under-construction resort and more wiggle room is needed in the district than was anticipated two years ago.

Aaron Wade, an attorney who has been aiding the city with fellow attorney Randy Larsen on the public infrastructure district, said there is no risk the the city of Ivins. If Black Desert Resort defaults on the loan, he said, it will ultimately be the developer that will be foreclosed on, not the city.

In his last council meeting, Mehr – who had been outspoken in his opposition to the public infrastructure district back in 2021 – said the removal of the debt limit justified his previous position, but he would vote to approve it as it doesn’t carry risk to the city.

Ivins City Council member Dennis Mehr during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Dec. 21, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“I was not excited about this back then, citing that we ought to let market forces work. The only thing that’s different between today and back then is inflation,” Mehr said. “That highlights market forces and I think we should live within our means. If society can’t afford something, we should not create incentives that can come off the rails.”

Speaking to the council, Black Desert Resort/Enlaw LLC Managing Director Patrick Manning said Thursday the main resort center is on pace to be completed by September or October.

That would be just in time for the resort’s golf course hosting of its first PGA Tour event next October, with the first LPGA event the following spring.

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