Bluff Town Council Passes Six-Month Building Moratorium While Planning and Zoning Codes Are Written

No new commercial, industrial, or residential building permits will be issued in Bluff in the next six months. On Tuesday, the Bluff Town Council passed a full moratorium on building within city limits to give the council time to work with the recently formed Planning and Zoning Committee on the town’s zoning ordinances.

Mayor Ann Leppanen reported that she and Councilmember Linda Sosa had a discussion with attorney Chris McAnany who said that due to the town’s recent incorporation, the council has the authority to pass a moratorium.

“You have to show that there’s compelling interest to put any kind of moratorium in,” Leppanen said at the council meeting, “and we have it with the fact that we don’t have planning and zoning up and running, we don’t have a general plan, and we’re working on a water [plan].”

Under Utah code, Temporary Land Use Regulations (the technical term for moratoria) require a “compelling, countervailing public interest” rationale for why there needs to be a brief pause in new building permits. A moratorium is typically implemented when there is an area of land that is unregulated or when a town is incorporated as is the case with Bluff. According to the Utah Department of Commerce, “While the temporary regulation is in place, the local government has time to address the situation through the normal process to adopt zoning ordinances.”

“It’s common practice for new towns or cities to do a moratorium to get a handle on things,” Leppanen explained.

Earlier in February, Bluff’s five-member Planning and Zoning Committee passed a non-binding resolution that recommended the town council implement a six-month moratorium on commercial and industrial building, but not residential. The original draft ordinance that McAnany helped write allowed the continued construction of single-family dwellings, but halted new commercial, industrial, and multi-family residential projects.

At the council meeting, Leppanen said that according to building permit data from the county, building permits in Bluff have seen a sharp uptick in recent years.

From 2009 to 2016, there were between zero and three new residencies built each year. In 2017, three residential buildings were completed, and construction on the Bluff Dwellings motel began, which will have the capacity to hold upwards of 200 people in a single night. Also in 2017, construction began on 14 nightly rental units in Bluff Gardens and two nightly rental units at Willow Street Cottages.

In 2018, Leppanen said she estimates construction began on five homes, and four new trailers associated with the Bluff Fort were installed. She said the Copper Cliffs II subdivision has fourteen lots; five are sold and two sections are being held for commercial development. Plus the new school is being built, which, together with the new hotels and rentals, could place further strain on the town’s infrastructure.

Community members Dudley Beck and Ed Dobson commented in support of a full moratorium. Leppanen noted that two residents read a letter opposing a moratorium to the Planning and Zoning Committee earlier in February.

Councilmember Brant Murray said, “I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt anyone trying to make a living in Bluff this summer season [who is] trying to do a remodel.” He added that it would be easier to manage a total moratorium because specific exceptions would not have to be defined ahead of time.

After some discussion, the council voted to unanimously pass a moratorium on all new residential, commercial, and industrial construction for six months. Councilmember Luanne Hook was absent from the meeting.

Moratoriums cannot be extended past six months, which places a hard deadline to work out Bluff’s building codes. The council suggested they would move to adopt the International Building Code and work with the Planning and Zoning Committee to amend it over the next six months to suit Bluff’s needs.

The decision could affect a lease application that SITLA has received for a 1,000-acre solar farm on the Bluff Bench, which is within city limits.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council also reported that the county is looking into options for reestablishing a transfer station near Bluff. Dudley Beck has reached out to the BLM for a possible land lease for a transfer station, but the process could take several years. In the meantime, Steve Helgerson may be able to charge locals to take trailers of trash to White Mesa Landfill, and the details are being worked out.

Lynell Schalk, a retired BLM ranger and Bluff resident, will be attending BLM meetings related to Bears Ears National Monument at the request of the town council.

After several delays, the town and county have signed an interlocal agreement over local services. With regards to planning and zoning, the town of Bluff will not reimburse the county for bringing in a contract building inspector from another jurisdiction.

The council said they had a “good, productive meeting” with the Bluff Service Area, Bluff Water Works, and water engineers from the state to initiate the process of determining how the town’s water system will be run in the future.