The Salt Lake County Council received forewarning Tuesday: After the holidays, be prepared for a controversial proposal to change the rules for "the keeping of animals and fowl for family food production" in unincorporated areas.
It’s an idea so divisive the county’s planning commissions cannot agree on it. Three are in favor, three are opposed.
David Wilde wrapped up his career Tuesday on the Salt Lake County Council as he began it in 2001, advocating for prayer at public meetings.
“I believe in prayer in public meetings. It’s a long-cherished tradition,” said Wilde at the beginning of the meeting, his last, in an agenda slot where council members can offer an “invocation/reading/thought” before official business begins.
Wilde, who is battling cancer, formally resigns Jan. 1. He then will take a job in the county district attorney’s office, which will make him eligible for health-care benefits not available at his private law practice.
When he first pushed for prayer at council meetings in 2001, Wilde said he wasn’t trying to pull a political stunt, but was motivated to do so after reading how Ezra Taft Benson, when he was secretary of agriculture under President Dwight Eisenhower, proposed that prayers be said to start each cabinet meeting. Benson later became head of the LDS Church.
“That took a lot of courage to be in a setting like that and make that suggestion,” Wilde said, adding he believed that a few moments of thoughtful perspective produced more congenial, efficient meetings.
“Salt Lake County government isn’t Congress or the Senate where there’s so much bickering and hard-headedness and an inability to compromise in a productive way,” he said. “I’m gone after this week, but I hope that others will pick up the baton and follow this tradition.”
One proposed revision would limit the number of chickens or cows or pigs that could be kept on parcels of land a half acre or greater.
The second, more-divisive provision would end "family food production" as a permitted use in those zones (R-1-21 and R-1-43) and would require applications to comply with various conditions, such as keeping animals a minimum distance from property lines.
"I kind of like the conditional-use [requirement]," said County Council member Max Burdick, who spent a dozen years on Sandy’s planning commission. "It gives neighbors a better opportunity to get involved and to understand what’s happening."
While that may be, planning staff member Curtis Woodward said there are concerns that volunteer planning boards and even county staff members will be asked to make uninformed judgments.
"As a planner, our expertise is in planning and patterns of development. Animal care and animal husbandry, that’s not our field of expertise," he said, noting that the Millcreek Planning Commission expressed concern "we’re venturing into areas we don’t know about."
But County Council member Jim Bradley questioned whether there weren’t experts in the county health department or other agencies who could provide advice on setting appropriate conditions.
He also wondered if it was really desirable to place a cap on the number of food animals that may be kept on a parcel regardless of its size or topography. The current ordinance bases the number of animals on a formula reflecting the size of the parcel.
"Each piece of property is going to be different," he said. "I can’t imagine we could come in and say these strict requirements are appropriate for each property."
The Magna and Copperton planning commissions joined Millcreek in recommending denial of the proposed amendments. Their concerns, said council attorney Jason Rose, revolved around the cost of the conditional use application for people who desire to feed their families on animals they raised.
A staff note put the cost of a residential conditional-use permit at roughly $300.
The county, Emigration Canyon and Kearns planning commissions supported the proposed ordinance changes, along with the Granite, Parleys and East Millcreek community councils.
But the decision ultimately rests with the County Council, which will take up the matter at its first meeting of 2014.
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