Commissioners deny rezone request, discuss planning commission seats, and pass on revising the school board voting districts again

by Katie Boyle
Staff Writer
On February 1, the San Juan County Commission denied a rezone request for a development north of Monticello, heard comments on appointments to the planning commission, and passed on revising the school board redistricting maps for a fourth time.
The commission revisited school district voting maps for the fourth consecutive meeting, but ultimately made no changes to the most recently passed school board voting districts. 
Redistricting occurs every ten years following the centennial US Census. Redistricting is when populations are rebalanced to maintain equal representation in legislative bodies.
In San Juan County, the commission is responsible for redistricting their three-seat commission and the San Juan School Distrtict’s five seat school board.
In December, the county commission approved a map that was presented by the county’s hired redistricting expert William Cooper for their own commission districts.
The commission map was described as a least-change map, making tweaks to keep the districts similar to the ones established in 2018 as a result of a successful voting rights lawsuit against the county by the Navajo Nation.
At their December meeting, the commission also approved a map for the school board districts presented by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC).
While the map perfectly balanced the county population across the five districts, it also put residents of the Eastland and Ucolo area in District Four, which is mostly populated by the Montezuma Creek and Aneth area.
The commission revisited the issue at the January 4 meeting and changed the map to place portions of Eastland in District One, instead of in District Four. That put these voters in a district in the Monticello area where their children attend school.
The change disrupted the perfect balance of voters per district, with District Four just inside the allowable five percent deviation.
​​At their January 18 meeting, the commission once again switched their vote to approve the Eastland Adjustment map, which was closer to the original map presented by the NNHRC.
The ordinance and map keeps Eastland in District One, while also placing some areas near Monticello back into District Four.
The map however places three incumbent board members, Lori Maughan, Lucille Cody, and Steven Black, all into a single voting district. 
At the February 1 meeting, the commission was presented a new map – the Option C map – which was drawn by Cooper, and has a total deviation of 5.79 percent.
This map keeps Eastland in District One with Monticello and keeps the incumbent board members in separate districts. 
School District Superintendent Ron Nielson offered a public comment on behalf of the school board, stating, “The San Juan School District is favorable to the Option C map.”
Lauren Benally, a policy analyst for the NNHRC, said of the Option C Map, “We do not support the efforts underway with the county commission to change the school redistricting plan.”
County Administrator Mack McDonald explained to the commission that under the current map, incumbent board members Maughan, Cody, and Black are all now in District Four. Regardless of redistricting, each board member is entitled to finish their four-year terms. Cody’s term is over at the end of 2022, while Maughan and Black’s terms end in 2024.
Maughan, the current representative of District One, and Steven Black, the current representative of District Two, both live near Monticello and Blanding. They were both elected by voters in those areas in the prior three school board elections. They have also alternated service as the school board presidents over the past six years. The district they are now in, with Lucille Cody, are anchored in the Montezuma Creek and Aneth areas.
Benally expressed concern over lack of input from the Navajo Nation in drawing the Option C map, stating, “The issues of effectiveness is being raised.”
Superintendent Nielson responded that he reached out to the Navajo Nation on behalf of the school board, but they did not meet.
The county received 37 written public comments about the issue, all in opposition of the map drawn by the NNHRC. 
Speaking in reference to citizens in the county without internet access, Benally asked “What information was conveyed to them?” 
Nielson responded that he met with the principals of the schools affected by the redistricting and asked for their cooperation in providing proper notice to the communities.
The school district created a ten-minute video wherein Nielson explained the board stance on redistricting. The video was shared on the district communication channels. 
Nielson that the principals of the schools in District Four told him that the most effective way to provide notice is to announce the changes on a broadcast of the high school basketball game. 
The district shared the video during a broadcast of Whitehorse basketball and Nielson reports the district believes it was successful.
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy said the county staff should have already finalized and sent to the state the map passed at the January 18 meeting. Maryboy asked, “Why do we have all this smokescreen?”
Commissioner Bruce Adams made a motion to adopt the Option C voting district map. There was no second and the motion did not carry. 
At the meeting, the commission also denied a request to rezone 18.69 acres of property at the Ranches at Elk Meadows subdivision north of Monticello.
The developer, Monticello Development Company LLC, has plans to create eight lots ranging in size from one-third to one-quarter acre.
According to a county staff report, the Ranches of Elk Meadows subdivision was established in 2007, with 67 lots on 751.61 acres.
In 2011, the zoning ordinance was amended, resulting in the subdivision being zoned as an Agricultural District and Rural Residential District.
In 2019, the zoning ordinance was amended again to allow lot sizes as small as one-quarter acre with approval from the County Board of Health.
Monticello Development Company LLC, based in Provo, UT, has requested to rezone 18.69 acres of the subdivision from an A-1 Agricultural Zone to an RR-1 Rural Residential Zone, as well as an amendment that would allow for eight lots ranging in size from one-third to three-quarters acre.
The county planning and zoning commission approved the amendment to the subdivision, contingent on the approval of the zone change by the county commission.
At the previous commission meeting on January 18, Maryboy directed McDonald to keep public comment open for two weeks and collect comments in writing. McDonald collected seven comments in writing, all of which opposed the rezoning of the Ranches at Elk Meadows. 
Scott Burton, San Juan County Planning and Zoning Administrator, reported the comments collected mostly cited small lot sizes, lack of water, and the belief that the rezoning would go against the general plan put in place by the Planning Commission.
Adams expressed concern over the 2019 amendment to the zoning ordinance that allows lot sizes as small as one-quarter acre with approval from the County Board of Health. 
Adams stated, “That ordinance amendment was specifically made for lot sizes in Spanish Valley.” Adams explained that historically a septic system can only be installed on lots that are one acre or larger. In Spanish Valley, homeowners wished to build their homes closer together to allow for shared septic systems. The 2019 amendment was passed to allow for this type of housing. 
After Adams expressed concern and interest in amending the zoning ordinance, he recused himself from the vote.
Maryboy made a motion to deny the request. Commissioner Willie Grayeyes asked, “Does this denial cover sufficiently to withstand any counter action?”
Burton explained that even if the request for rezoning is not granted, according to the 2019 amendment, the developers can still go through with the project with permission from the Planning Commission.
All commissioners expressed concern and interest in addressing the 2019 amendment and its ramifications. 
San Juan County Attorney Alex Goble explained a redrafting of the county zoning code has been underway for a year now and the current draft is out for legal review. If passed, the current draft will reportedly resolve the 2019 amendment. 
Grayeyes said he would second the motion to deny the request if Maryboy inserted in the motion a moratorium on the project. Both Maryboy and Grayeyes voted in favor, while Adams abstained. 
Also at the meeting, county residents from Bluff and Spanish Valley offered public comment in opposition to appointments to the county planning commission. 
The county had planned to approve appointments with Trent Schafer representing Monticello, Shik Han representing Spanish Valley, Leah Schrenk representing Bluff, and Lloyd Wilson representing the At Large and Special Service District. 
The selection process for vacancies on the commission includes a public notice, staff review of resumes and letters, then finally interviews of qualified candidates. From there, staff makes recommendations to the county commission.
According to reports from county staff, the Planning Commission vacancies were advertised in the San Juan Record as a Public Notice in December of 2021. Staff received eight letters of interest, two of which were from incumbent commission members. Five interviews were held, as one letter was submitted after the due date of December 31, and two applicants did not meet qualifications.
Ann Leppanen, the Mayor of Bluff, offered a public comment stating several Bluff residents are eager to apply for the Planning Commission.
Spanish Valley resident Holly Sloan said, “The process leading to the current recommendation excluded qualified and involved citizens.”
Residents from Spanish Valley and Bluff cited concerns, including what they believed to be a lack of proper notice, and unnecessary request for qualifications for planning commissioners.
Because this item was on the consent agenda and not a business action item, commissioners were unable to deliberate. 
Maryboy made a motion to pass the consent agenda, excluding the item which appoints the Planning Commission members. 
Adams seconded the motion and it passed unanimously, with plans to revisit the issue at a future meeting.
Maryboy also requested that the county send a letter in opposition to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) exemption request to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a Lisbon Valley aquifer.
The exemption would allow the Lisbon Valley Mining Company to extend copper extraction efforts through in-situ mining which would pump chemical solutions into the Burro Canyon Aquifer in order to extract copper.
The exemption request from the DEQ says that the effort would not impact nearby wells but the claim has been met with skepticism from nearby landowners, who express concerns of what the effort would do to their drinking water.
An earlier attempt to approve the effort was met with unanimous opposition from the San Juan County Commission, which approved a letter opposing in-situ mining anywhere in the county.
Maryboy’s request to send a letter specific for this exemption request was not allowed because it wasn’t noticed on the agenda. McDonald assured Maryboy that the county’s earlier letter would be a part of the consideration for the proposal. 
At the meeting, an ordinance establishing rules and regulations for special events held in San Juan County was presented to the commission. 
Elaine Gizler, Director of Economic Development and Visitor Services, presented the ordinance but asked the commission to table the item. Gizler explained the ordinance is an effort to reign in lost potential tax revenue, but it needed to be revised by County Attorney Kendall Laws. 
A motion to table the ordinance to allow time for Gizler and Laws to meet passed unanimously. 
Laws invited county residents with specific concerns over this ordinance to contact his office. 
The commission adopted an ordinance adopting and enforcing a county fire policy for building in unincorporated areas of the county. San Juan County Fire Chief David Gallegos explained this ordinance allows the fire department to properly enforce rules that prevent wildfires.
The commission voted and signed a letter of support for the Utah Food Bank. Adams stated he has been working with the Utah Food Bank for some time. According to Adams, the Utah Food Bank has found property to build a distribution center in Montezuma Creek and plans to build a warehouse in Blanding. 
The commission voted and signed a letter of support for the San Juan County Event Center application. The county is applying for a Federal EDA grant to pay for a County Event Center.

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