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Council stalls new General Plan adoption after ADU concerns, Councilmembers bicker over decorum

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Lehi City has been working to bring a new General Plan to fruition for over two years. After being unanimously recommended by the Planning Commission, the new plan was anticipated to be approved and adopted on Tuesday, October 12. That didn’t happen. 

The current General Plan was adopted in 2011 and had a total population build-out of approximately 220,000 residents, with some estimates as high as 300,000. In the General Plan update process, the Mayor and City Council expressed concern with a population of that size and asked the Planning Department to scale it back. 

“We got to a certain point, and the Mayor and City Council wanted to pause and take a closer look at our build-out numbers. We had a build-out population estimate of 220,000. We don’t want to be that big of a city. Now we’ve got a plan for up to 160,000. We were very strategic with where we kept density,” said Lehi Community Development Director Kim Struthers earlier this year. 

In the most recent draft of the General Plan, total population build-out has been reduced to approximately 156,000 residents. 

The City has emphasized moving future density to five transit-oriented development (TOD) areas in the updated plan. The first one is located in the most northwest area of Traverse Mountain, followed by Thanksgiving Point near the FrontRunner station, the former Lehi Block area, west State Street, and the area around the new Lehi Tech apartments (west of Walmart). 

With the emphasis on clustered density, the Council and City staff has also expressed the desire to protect larger lot residential areas from being squeezed down to maintain diverse housing in Lehi. 

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed House Bill (H.B) 82 making it illegal for cities and HOAs to restrict accessory dwelling units (ADU’s), also known as basement apartments. The bill included several concessions that cities around the state lobbied for, including allowing each City to restrict up to 25% of their homes from allowing ADUs, enacting a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet, and requiring at least one dedicated parking space per ADU. 

H.B 82 (which was opposed by Lehi City, the Mayor and City Council) caused the Council to pause on the General Plan adoption this week. 

“The game changed a little bit with the new ADU rules coming through,” explained Councilwoman Paige Albrecht.

“I wonder if we’re putting the cart before the horse here. My concern is approving this and then analyzing the ADUs–then we have an approved General Plan, and entitlements will have already been given. It would be much harder to backtrack on that,” agreed Councilman Paul Hancock.

Mayor Mark Johnson suggested that the Council instruct City staff to run the utility models with a 25% ADU utilization rate citywide.

“After looking at the little data available, 8-10% is the current utilization, but I think we should be conservative and use 25%. It ultimately could increase over time as well,” said Johnson.

“As housing costs continue to go up, we see more people doing it (renting their basement out),” said City Engineer LorinPowell, who agreed that the 25% number is a safer conservative utilization rate to use in the analysis models.

The analysis will allow the Council to identify areas where the current sewer system or traffic wouldn’t handle the proposed increase and adjust accordingly.

“We can look at dialing back some TOD density like on Main Street,” said Councilman Mike Southwick.

The Council took public comment during the agenda item, which included a heated back and forth interchange between Councilwoman Katie Koivisto and Councilman Chris Condie.

A resident mentioned rumors he had heard regarding future Thanksgiving Point plans when Mayor Johnson interrupted and asked the resident where he had heard the information.

Councilman Paul Hancock said, “We haven’t seen any proposal. We haven’t approved anything.” Koivisto then interrupted Hancock.

Condie interjected and said, “Katie, let him finish. Paul was finishing.”

Koivisto then tried to quiet Condie multiple times, saying “Shhh.”

Thrown off by the interaction, Johnson tried to restore order to the meeting, “Ok, Paul has the floor,” said Johnson.

“You guys kept interrupting Larry (the resident speaking) this entire time. It started with Mark. We’re talking about interrupting people here. It started with Mark. Let him finish, and we can get through it. Problem solved,” replied Koivisto.

“Katie, you need to let me conduct the meeting,” said Johnson.

“You tell us not to interrupt, and you literally just interrupted Larry,” countered Koivisto.

“I was asking him a question,” said Johnson

“You’ve told us that we can’t do that either. Then you guys attack me for it. The decorum here does not exist,” said Koivisto in rebuttal.

“Paul,” said Johnson trying to move the meeting forward.

“You can let Larry finish,” said Koivisto.

“Paul, I’ll let you ask your question,” concluded Johnson.

Public comment continued. After the discussion, City staff were instructed to take the feedback and run additional analysis on ADU usage. The anticipated timeline to adopt the new General Plan is now December 2021.

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