Some things to know about zoning

There have been a lot of questions about Planet Fitness moving and Momentum expanding into their space. While I don’t know what the property owners are thinking for the long-range plan of their property, I can tell you the role Millcreek plays and what parameters are in place that control and shape development in our city.

First, Millcreek doesn’t tear down any buildings. The city doesn’t own them; they are private property and the property owners are responsible for their buildings and property. Millcreek controls the zoning ordinances that govern individual properties. Private development must work within the constraints of the zoning for each specific property. You can read Millcreek’s zoning codes here.

Our City is financed by sales tax and we want to maintain the commercial base that funds our services. Salt Lake County zoning allowed multi-family housing as a conditional use in the Commercial-2 and Commercial-3 properties. The Millcreek City Council changed this to require new housing development in C-2 and C-3 zones be mixed-use with commercial space covering at least 50% of the ground floor. We also changed the mixed-use max coverage of a property, decreasing it from 80% to 60% with 40% required open space.

Because many of Millcreek’s commercial properties abut residential properties, the City Council limited commercial building heights to a maximum of 30 ft tall when they are within 100 ft of residential-zoned property.   

There is a lot of confusion about the term “conditional use” in zoning. Many people think that if a property use is designated as conditional use, then the planning commission can deny a conditional use permit if the community doesn’t like the proposed project. While we sometimes wish this was the case, Utah is a property rights state and property owners are given a lot of protections under the law.   

Utah law on conditional uses states:

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Notice section 2 says the “land use authority shall approve a conditional use if reasonable conditions are proposed” and the conditions do “not require elimination of the detrimental effects”. This makes conditional uses difficult to deny.   Our Planning Commission must be very careful to apply this correctly or the City could face litigation by the applicant claiming property rights violations.

So, what does this mean for our residents? As Millcreek has been updating our zoning ordinances, we have held several open houses to gather feedback from property owners and residents seeking input on changes. Once the feedback is processed and a draft ordinance is prepared, the ordinance is presented to all four Community Councils to receive their input and allow for more public review and feedback. The Community Council recommendations are presented to the Planning Commission and, once again, the public is invited to review the ordinance and give feedback.

After the Planning Commission presentation, the ordinance is presented to the City Council at a first reading where the City Council can give input and suggest changes to the draft ordinance. This is done at a work session (which is open to public attendance).

After the first reading, the draft ordinance is presented at a subsequent City Council meeting where a public hearing is open for residents to give feedback directly to the City Council. Following the hearing, the City Council can adopt the ordinance as presented, give direction to City staff to make changes based on the feedback received, or reject the presented ordinance.  

As you can see, we want your input! There are multiple opportunities for residents to share their perspectives and weigh in on the discussion. Throughout this process, residents are encouraged to share their input.  This can be done at the various meetings or also through email, phone calls, or other communication with City Council members if they are unable to attend any of the presentations or hearings.

Once the ordinance is adopted, then it is the job of the Planning Commission to see that it is applied correctly in evaluating each application that comes before them.

As development is proposed, Millcreek has implemented several strategies to inform residents and solicit feedback. We have increased the noticing radius for mailings to surrounding residents and we post A-frame signs on the development site to notify anyone passing by who may have an interest. We post meeting agendas on our weekly City email and on our website to identity properties that will be up for discussion. And once again, residents are invited to attend Community Council, Planning Commission, and City Council meetings to offer public comment.

Millcreek is working to give residents a voice and to allow public input to help shape and control the future of our City. I urge you to stay involved, be educated on what the City can and cannot do in regards to development, watch the emails and website for information, and then show up and share your thoughts!

Highland Drive

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Another aspect of the City Center is that Highland Drive will receive a much-needed facelift. Our goal is to use some of the money generated through the Community Reinvestment Area (see previous post on this subject) to improve the look and functionality of the street.

One of the first things I heard after being elected to our City Council were complaints from business owners and residents who lived near Highland Drive. They were concerned about the traffic and general run-down look of the street. Residents didn’t like the speed of the traffic, the lack of sidewalks, and how difficult it is to cross the street.

Business owners also didn’t like the traffic speed and the congestion created by no turn lanes. They wanted a street that was an attractive entrance to Millcreek and that had an inviting boulevard feeling.

Because 1300 East is so close and can accommodate higher traffic volume, traffic engineers have proposed taking Highland Drive down to one lane each direction with a center landscape strip interspersed with a left-hand turn lane to both moderate traffic speeds and keep traffic flow moving without the current back up created by cars stopping in travel lanes while trying to turn left. They are also proposing right turn lanes and bus pull out areas to keep traffic moving while the bus stops to let passengers on and off.

Roundabouts were suggested at Miller and Elgin Avenue, though the traffic engineers are moving away from this idea. Engineers are concerned that roundabouts won’t provide enough safety for pedestrian crossing at these points and may slow traffic too much at these points. Once we have an engineered traffic study completed, we will publish it and seek public input before we proceed. I appreciate those who have shared their thoughts with me and I hope you will continue to do so throughout this process.

Do we need a City Center?

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I’ve had a few people ask me why Millcreek is planning a City Center. Some have even questioned whether the City Council or City employees are receiving kickbacks or other incentives for pushing this project — I assure you, we are not. I wanted to share my thoughts and hopefully you will give me your feedback as we work together on this project.

While writing this, I realized it would be long and there are several different aspects of the City Center, so I decided to break it down into a couple of posts. I am hoping to address all the concerns that I have heard. If not—send me an email and I’ll add to this.

The City Center came about because Salt Lake County approved a couple of big projects in the area by the old Villa Theater prior to Millcreek incorporating, and this is the best way we have to help direct those projects. Developers are scouring the Salt Lake valley looking for areas to build. Our economy is hot and there is a housing shortage. Developers are looking to capitalize on this and build in areas of the valley that have good access and are in locations desirable to live in. This area of Millcreek certainly meets that criteria.

The above mentioned projects were on parcels of land zoned C-3 that allowed multi-family housing as a conditional use. This zoning was inherited from Salt Lake County and there was nothing that Millcreek could do to change that without violating property rights and risking a lawsuit. So we were faced with a decision, do nothing and let developers build what they wanted based on the zoning allowances of that area, or try and work with the developers to create something that benefited Millcreek residents and turned the potential hodge-podge development into a cohesive, attractive location. We chose the latter.

The result is that we were able to negotiate with the developers to buy and dedicate open space for a linear park along with a small pocket park in this area. The over-grown, neglected strip of lilac bushes east of Adib’s Rug Gallery (the former Villa Theater) will now become an attractive linear park. This was private property—not public open space—and it will now be City owned and be protected as green space. The developers are paying to landscape this and help maintain it for the first few years; impact fees from new development will help with future costs.

The developers are also putting in angled parking along Gunn Avenue allowing for more parking spaces than they are required to provide by code. There will also be retail space on the ground floor of the housing which is important for maintaining our City tax base. None of these were required when the projects were approved by Salt Lake County, but they will help to make the area more attractive, to keep parking out of the nearby neighborhood, and to give a little economic lift to this block; this will, in turn, help to fund improvements to Highland Dr. and the surrounding infrastructure.

Believe me, this is not something we went looking for. But given the opportunity to shape and mold the development rather than be at the whim of random developers seemed the prudent thing to do.

Additionally, we received a lot of feedback from Millcreek residents during our General Plan process that they would like a City Center. A place that says “You are in Millcreek”. Where residents can gather, have community events like farmers or holiday markets, and a variety of day and night activities to benefit Millcreek residents and attract visitors from the region.

We have been soliciting public feedback throughout the past year. We have held public open houses, went on walking tours, published notices in our weekly email and city-wide mailed newsletter, and asked for your thoughts through every social media venue that we could. We gathered comments and suggestions, and even criticism, and tried to come up with a solution that would be good for as many people as possible. It isn’t perfect, and there are trade-offs, but we are trying and we are listening.

Please email me with questions or comments cjackson@millcreek.us


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It's budget time!

It’s municipal budget time and the last few months we have been working on our 2019/2020 budget. The municipal budget calendar is from July 1 - June 30 so our new budget year will start in a little over 2 months.

The budget process started at the beginning of the year when department directors started collecting budget information for the coming year. The City Council has held three work sessions going over budget projections and discussing where we need to prioritize our City funds.

At our City Council meeting on April 22, 2019 we will tentatively adopt the tentative budget. It’s a convoluted title and it sounds strange, but the gist of it is that the budget is a tentative budget until there are no more changes to be made and there is a formal public hearing to adopt it. The tentative budget is only tentatively adopted because it is still subject to input and change before it is finally adopted in June. Make sense?

I really like that we are required by state law to have a balanced budget. We have to collect only what we need and we cannot spend more than we collect. Every quarter we have a budget review and hearing to amend the budget—balancing any changes that have occurred. This ensures that we stay within our budget and that any projections that seem to be off are corrected before it becomes problematic.

For example, if there is a big expense that we hadn’t planned on, such as repairing a failing storm water pipe, (something that has happened this past year) we adjust the budget to move funds from other expenses that may not be as critical. And conversely, if we have collected more money than was projected (we had stronger sales tax revenue this year than last), we allocate that money to needed budget expense items.

It is a system of constant checks and balances. It requires careful monitoring and adjustment, but the end result is better accountability for your tax dollars.

Rosecrest emergency cache container finally here!

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For the past 6 years, Canyon Rim resident Linda Milne has been working on raising money and awareness for the purchase of an emergency cache container. After a successful fundraising campaign last fall, and much negotiating with Mobile Mini, the Canyon Rim Community Association was able to purchase a container which was delivered on March 4th.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this project! We have started—and now we need to finish by purchasing the supplies to fill the cache. Once filled, this cache will be a much needed resource in the event of a catastrophic emergency.

Expanded City Offices Now Open!

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If you were unable to make it to the Millcreek Open House on January 24th, I wanted to give you a look inside our new office space and introduce you to some of our Millcreek City Staff. The new space houses our front office team, communications and programs staff, engineering staff, building permit reviewers and inspectors, community development staff and planners, economic development team, business licensing staff, emergency manager, code inspectors, City services director, City recorder, City manager and an office for the Mayor.

Our goal in expanding the office space is save tax money by bringing these services in house while providing better, more efficient services to Millcreek residents; having these services in-house eliminates some costly contracts.

Council Chambers

Council Chambers

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Our new Council Chambers can seat about 120 people with some additional room in an overflow area. We found that Millcreek residents are interested in being involved and attending our meetings. Our original chamber space proved too small to accommodate the interest of our citizens — a good problem to have for a City! I’m thrilled that so many people attend our meetings and are engaged with what is happening in Millcreek.

The new Chambers also have a much improved sound system and better video capabilities which will enhance our Facebook streaming. You can watch any of our City Council meetings live on facebook.com/MillcreekCity/.

Lobby

Lobby

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You can now apply for a business license or building permit online through our website Millcreek.us, or if you prefer, you can come into the City offices and use the computers there to apply. Staff is available to help if you have any questions.

Vintage Millcreek Photos

Vintage Millcreek Photos

Hall of Maps

Hall of Maps

We have some great Millcreek-specific artwork on our walls, thanks to the efforts of Mike Winder, our City Economic Development Director.

We have a lot of blank halls that still need artwork. If you are an artist and would like to share your work to hang at City Hall for a bit, please let me know.

Promise Room

Promise Room

Our former council chambers is now our Promise Room. It’s a great space for public open houses, such as this one on our City Center. We will also be using this room regularly for our Promise Leadership Committee meetings.

Our Promise Program is up and running! The after school program at Mill Creek Elementary will begin soon. We currently have over 20 Millcreek residents volunteering to read with kids, helping to improve student literacy and comprehension. If you are interested in volunteering, contact program director Ashley Cleveland.

City Recorder Elyse Greiner and City Manager John Geilmann

City Recorder Elyse Greiner and City Manager John Geilmann

Human Resources and Finance Director Laurie Johnson, Councilman Dwight Marchant and HR Finance Assistant Stephanie Hampton

Human Resources and Finance Director Laurie Johnson, Councilman Dwight Marchant and HR Finance Assistant Stephanie Hampton

Economic Development Director Mike Winder and Assistant Nicole Lindsay

Economic Development Director Mike Winder and Assistant Nicole Lindsay

If you are in the neighborhood, I hope you will drop by City Hall to look around and say “hi”. Our goal is to serve you and we want to make doing business with Millcreek an easy and enjoyable process.

Community Reinvestment Areas--what do they mean?

Millcreek has four Community Reinvestment Areas—Canyon Rim Commons, Millcreek Center, Olympus Hills, and West Millcreek. You can find more details about each and maps of the areas here.

I’ve been asked what exactly is a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) and what are the Cities plans for these areas, what development we are pursuing and what changes we hope to make.

A CRA is an area with designated boundaries that the City sees as having potential for redevelopment or new growth. State law (Title 17C Chapter 5) is very specific on how CRA’s are created and what the tax increment money can be used for. As changes occur in the CRA and new development brings increased business or increased value to the property, the City can use the increased tax revenue to go back into improvements within the CRA boundary. The CRA will not raise taxes, but the idea is that the new development and change will increase the tax revenue received and that increase, or tax increment, can then be applied back into improvements in the area.

Canyon Rim Commons is a good example. This area already has retail, but the existing businesses are changing--ie Dan's, Rite Aid, Silver Stare Hardware. It is all market driven. The City is not driving these changes, but it is an opportunity for the City to channel these changes to bring value and improvement to the area. The CRA is purposely set larger than the retail area so that we can apply the tax increment money received to that entire area and not just the retail space--the law only allows us to apply the tax increment money to improvements within the CRA. We don't anticipate changes in the entire area, but if we can apply some of the increment money to improve sidewalks or bury the crazy zig zag power poles, that enhances the area which in turn attracts more businesses and benefits Millcreek residents.

If you have any other questions, as always, I’m happy to answer in more detail.

Thanks,

Cheri 

Rental properties and the new business license requirement

There has been a lot of talk, and even an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, about Millcreek’s requirement for property owners renting one or two units to have a Millcreek business license. I wanted to share my thoughts on why I supported this measure.

We have been inundated with code enforcement calls since becoming a City. I don't know why other than maybe people haven't known who to call before this. A lot of calls are for unkempt property for both rental and owner-occupied houses. We also get a lot of calls about rental properties without adequate parking, with cars parked on the road or on the lawn.

The code enforcement officers have responded. The first step is educating the property owner about City code and asking for compliance. With repeat offenders the officers issue a fine--I'm not sure at what point, but I think it is after the third or fourth offense. They would rather not have to fine anyone, and really, the only mechanism in place to collect if they don't pay is assessing it to their property taxes; we don't want to have to do that.

Owner occupied homes generally comply. The owner is more invested in their neighborhood and we don't have as many repeat offenders. Rentals are another story. For whatever reason, we have a lot of repeat calls on problem rental properties.

The business license requirement gives us two tools. First, if the property owner doesn't comply after a few contacts, then Millcreek can pull their business license and tell them they can't rent their property.

Second, as part of the business license process, the landlord has a check list of things that they must have in order to get a license. There are things such as off-street parking, smoke detectors, functioning windows in each bedroom. They must also agree to keep the property up and shovel the snow off the sidewalk if they have one. This serves to educate and remind landlords of what their responsibilities are for their rental properties and to hopefully prevent code violations.

I’ve been asked about starting a Good Landlord program that allows the City to discount the license fee for property owners who participate. Other cities have programs like this and Millcreek has looked into it. The issue we have is that State statute doesn’t allow cities to reduce a business license fee for landlords who have fewer than four rental units. We decided to keep the fee low and stay within State law.

Our goal is not to force out rental properties or make things more difficult for landlords. We recognize the need for affordable housing and that is why we set the fee at $60--lower than other business license fees and much lower than surrounding cities charge. Our hope is that this will also help to improve the rental properties within Millcreek for those tenants who are renting them while helping ensure that those who own rental properties are still good neighbors.

The number of complaints we get about rental properties is a significant issue for our code enforcement officers. We need a way to address the problem, and given limited options, the license fee seems like a good place to start. It might not be perfect, and we may need to revisit it and change things if we see no improvement. But we are trying. I’d welcome suggestions if you have ideas on how to solve this issue.

Thanks!

Cheri