Bluff, Spanish Valley controversies continue

Planning and zoning issues in Bluff and Spanish Valley, two of the fastest-changing areas of San Juan County, dominated discussion at the February 18 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.

A petition signed by 79 Bluff residents and/or property owners asked the Commission to terminate the county’s interlocal agreement with Bluff.  

The recently approved zoning regulations in Bluff are a particular point of concern.

At the same meeting, residents from Spanish Valley asked the county to slow the process of making adjustments to the guidelines for development efforts in the area.

In the end, Commissioners expressed a hesitancy to enter the frays.

“We are listening,” said Commission Chairman Kenneth Maryboy.  “but we sure hate to step in and make a decision for you. We will continue to monitor what is going on.  A lot of it is on your shoulders.”

The controversy in Bluff centers on zoning, particularly for a number of properties that had a de facto commercial designation before the zoning effort and now have another designation.

Amer Tumeh, a business and property owner in Bluff, presented the petition which asks the county to terminate the interlocal agreement with Bluff and other cities in the county.  

The agreement outlines the relationship between Bluff and the county in a number of key areas, including law enforcement, road maintenance, fire protection, and emergency services.

Tumeh said that the signers are concerned that the Bluff planning and zoning was “arbitrary, discriminatory and preferential,” that the zoning downgrades many properties with new designation or setbacks that render the property unusable, and that Bluff has taken a negative stand against business. 

The petition states that Bluff has designated less than 30 acres of commercial property in a town of 24,000 acres.

Gary Guymon, a Blanding businessman who owns property in Bluff, said out-of-area landowners were not included in the zoning decisions.

“What happened to our properties makes them of nil value and that is not correct,” said Guymon, who said much of his property was zoned agriculture.

“You can’t hardly raise a cow down there and have it stay alive.  [Bluff Town] made our property of no value.

“We need to sit down together as property owners because the 18 pages of ordinances makes it where business can’t succeed.”

Bluff resident Marx Powell said the key to community success is cooperation between entities, with a goal of protecting residents.  

Powell added, “The Bluff Town Council has exhibited little to none of this.”

“It is getting to the point where the county seems to be getting involved,” said Maryboy.

Tumeh said the community is in a standoff.  “Let them be a city,” said Tumeh, “but the county should not be paying their bills.”

Bluff Mayor Ann Leppenen defended the planning effort.

“What I would like to remind the Commissioners and the public is that Bluff is a legal entity,” said Leppenen. “We have established planning and zoning, as required by law, that followed our general plan.”

“We have met every week since we took office. Our meetings are publicly posted. We have followed state laws and codes.”

“We are happy to meet with any citizen that has a grievance, but there is a process,” said Leppenen. “They need to get on our agenda or the planning and zoning agenda.”

Leppenen urged the Commission to retain the interlocal agreement and said the town appreciates working with the Commissioners.

In the end, Commissioners tabled the item regarding the interlocal agreement and asked the county staff to investigate each of the interlocal agreements with Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello.

For many Spanish Valley residents, the issue of concern is new by-laws for the San Juan County Planning Commission. After discussion and public comment, Commissioners approved the by-laws.

County Administrator Mack McDonald said the by-laws outline the important rules, procedures and by-laws for the planning commission.

The planning commission includes members from the incorporated areas of Blanding, Monticello, and Bluff, in addition to unincorporated areas such as La Sal and Spanish Valley, along with special service districts such as Eastland and Mexican Hat.

Jeff Madsen of northern San Juan County asked why the planning commission has only one member from Spanish Valley.

“In the next 10, 15, 20 years, where is the growth going to be?” asked Madsen. “It’s in Spanish Valley. There will be so much more growth in Spanish Valley than in any of the other unincorporated areas.”

Despite the intense public interest in the planning commission as it worked on planning and zoning regulations for Spanish Valley in recent months, McDonald said the county has struggled to find people to serve in the past.

“It’s been pretty tough to get volunteers in specific areas,” said McDonald.

Planning commission members earn a stipend and are reimbursed for travel expenses.  They must be a registered voter in San Juan County.

Once a member is appointed for a four-year term, the by-laws state that they can be removed for cause only, such as for lack of attendance at meetings or ethical questions.

Commission members may serve a second term, but only if they are re-appointed by the County Commission.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents of Spanish Valley asked Commissioners not to approve the changes, stating that they were not ready for a vote.

After clarifying the process for a member to serve a second term, the by-laws were approved.

After the public comment period, Commissioner Maryboy said, “Right now, I am listening to Spanish Valley and all your concerns.  However, the same amount of people are writing to us, not liking the fact of how things are going. 

“So how do you balance that out?  I wish I had a magic wand to fix everything, but the fact of the matter is that we just have to deal with it.”

A new Planning and Zoning Map for Spanish Valley is being prepared by the planning commission.  Before the map is approved, McDonald said that there will be a public hearing for the planning commission and another public hearing for the commission.

McDonald said there was a lot of confusion regarding the map, which was approved in November, 2019. The planning commission is in the process of finalizing the map, providing more detail, and including SITLA properties.

“We hope to come back with a win/win,” said McDonald, “back to where we originally thought we were with the community and the public.”

Commissioners approved a short-term loan of up to $120,000 for the Spanish Valley Special Service District to cover additional costs to the water and sewer project currently nearing completion in Spanish Valley.  

McDonald said the loan will help the district finalize the work and pay the contractor.  

The district will go to the Division of Drinking Water and Community Impact Board (CIB), who funded the main project, to seek additional funding. 

If this is not successful, the short-term loan could become a three-year loan at same interest rate as charged by the CIB.  

In other matters at the February 18 meeting, a revision of the county purchasing policy was approved by Commissioners. They are the first revisions to the document since 2015.

The revisions require bids and contracts for purchases above certain levels and limits who can sign contracts.

The purchasing policy retains some ability to have sole-source contracts and does not require accepting the lowest cost bid.

“We hope to get a good price, but also buy quality products,” said McDonald.

“The goal is to simplify, to streamline, but also to ensure that purchasing is clear.”

Sole source contracts could include special events such as the San Juan County Fair concert, the PRCA Rodeo, and a Mud Bog.  

The March 3 meeting of the Commission is canceled because two Commissioners will be attending the National Association of Counties (NACO) Conference at that time.

Commissioners held a lengthy discussion about the meeting agenda and the start of the regular commission meeting.

Work sessions begin at 9 a.m. with the general meeting scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. The recommendation in the future is to move right into the general meeting when the work session ends rather than wait until 11 a.m.

A brass marker will be placed at Edge of Cedars State Park this spring to honor a dinosaur fossil discovered in San Juan County.

It is part of an effort to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Utah Natural History Museum. 

Brass markers will be placed in each of the 29 counties.  A paleontology site on Comb Ridge is where the Natural History Museum’s Seitaad dinosaur was found.  

Commissioners approved a four-year tuberculosis contract with the State of Utah through the Public Health Department.  The funding helps support investigations into possible cases of the communicable disease.

Commissioners said that they would prefer to keep a gate open through property northwest of Blanding near Perkins Pasture.

The private landowners are beginning to object to allowing public access to their roads because of damage caused to the road.

Will Petty, one of the property owners, said, “We have been there for 22 years, and have always had a good neighbor policy. The only thing we care about is respectfulness.”

Petty said that maintenance costs on the road were about $1,000 a year in the past, but there have been significant changes in the costs over the past three years.

The motion from the Commission was to keep the gate open through the property.

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