IVINS — In a unanimous vote, the Ivins City Council last Thursday added language to its sensitive lands ordinance, which members say gives better clarification as to what is protected land in the city and what is not. 

A ridgeline, or rock outcropping, seen on the property planned to be developed into The Retreat residential/commercial project, Ivins, Utah, Aug. 3, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The new language is more specific to the height and other physical criteria for a protected ridgeline, creates more specific “sensitive land districts” and adds flexibility for developers to “modify or remove relatively small topographic features which may have slopes distinctly different from surrounding property.”

The amendment to the existing sensitive lands ordinance was approved 4-0,  with Council member Jenny Johnson absent, after a public hearing where two residents expressed opposition to the move.

“This is so much more clear now,” Council member Adel Murphy said. “They’ve taken something that’s confusing and (are) dialing it down better.”

That sentiment was echoed by fellow member Mike Scott.

“A few months ago, I had zero chance of understanding the document. Now, I think I have 10 out of 13 things right so that’s an improvement,” Scott said to the sound of laughter. 

The ordinance describes its purpose as to “Preserve the natural setting of the city to maintain and strengthen private property values.”

The city’s sensitive land ordinance came into dispute in September when the developers of The Retreat planned a residential and commercial resort complex – a 113-acre property at the corner of Puerto Drive and 400 South – sought to level some of the rock ridgelines in the area

Revised sensitive lands map in Ivins as of Nov. 16, 2023 | Map courtesy Ivins City, St. George News | Click to enlarge

There was a difference of opinion between the city, residents and the developer as to what constituted a protected ridgeline. Detractors of the resort claimed the developer was aiming to destroy some of the “natural beauty” and views in the area, while the developer, Rize Capital, said it intended to retain the taller ridgelines but that some of what were called ridgelines shouldn’t be defined as such, including some that were less than 8 feet in height. 

The council later approved a revised plan by Rize Capital that was viewed as a compromise that included retaining some of the ridgelines and lining them with public walkways. 

The new language defines a ridgeline as a “15-foot rise over a run of 125 feet or less.” 

The two members of the public who spoke during the public comment portion of the debate on revising the ordinance said the move was meant to appease Rize Capital and retroactively make them in compliance with the sensitive land ordinance.  

“Repeatedly, (the developer) presented a plan with no plan for this typography. It wasn’t the developer preserving it. It was the city,” said Michael Cook, a resident who was a plaintiff in an unsuccessful lawsuit that aimed to overturn the zoning approval for The Resort land. “It seems to me that the city is working so hard to accommodate this developer.”

Ivins Mayor Chris Hart during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, Nov. 16, 2023 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

But Mayor Chris Hart responded that the ordinance change discussion wasn’t about The Resort and its zoning application. 

“This agenda item has nothing to do with the applicant,” Hart said. “The changes came about because of an application that came before the Sensitive Lands Committee because of inconsistencies in the language. That is what we’re discussing. We’re not denying or approving an application.”

Hart added the revised ordinance will eliminate any confusion as to what is protected and what is not, he said protecting the natural beauty of the area while still protecting the rights of property owners.

“This is going to lead to a more accurate depiction for the developer and the city for what’s meant to be preserved,” Hart said. “I don’t think it’s right for the city to disallow development for the kind of features that aren’t that significant in height.

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