Gov. Gary Herbert has given the go-ahead for opponents of the Olympia Hills development in southwest Salt Lake County to use email and fax to gather signatures for their referendum aimed at blocking the project.
The referendum was approved Wednesday by the county to start gathering signatures.
On Thursday, Herbert issued an executive order to suspend certain provisions of the state’s referendum law to allow this workaround during the time of the coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions.
“Citizen initiatives are an important part of our democratic process here in Utah," Herbert said in a prepared statement. "At this time, however, door-to-door signature gathering poses an unnecessary health risk, both to signature gatherers, and to the households they visit.
"This order creates a path forward for the signature gathering process for referenda while preserving the requirement for handwritten signatures.”
Under the order, signature gatherers are not required to witness in-person the signing of the petitions and the entire petition packet does not need to be presented to the would-be signer. Instead, the signature page can be emailed or faxed so that the voter can print out a copy, sign it and return it by email or fax.
Such accommodations were granted last month to candidates running for office, and leaders of Utah for Responsible Growth had asked for similar relaxing of the rules for the referendum.
The group’s Lorin Palmer said in a news release Wednesday that the group would begin collecting signatures electronically. “In an effort to continue social distancing measures that help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we will begin collecting electronic signatures similar to the order Gov. Gary R. Herbert issued on March 26, 2020.”
The revised Olympia Hills project plan was approved by Salt Lake County Council March 3. It calls for up to 6,330 new single-family homes, town homes and apartments and 1.8 million square feet of office and retail spaces to be built over 25 years in an unincorporated southwest portion of Salt Lake county.
For almost two years, residents of Herriman, Bluffdale, Riverton and adjoining communities have gone to rallies and public meetings to voice their opposition to the project, which they fear will worsen traffic, overwhelm public schools and have other adverse effects on their quality of life.
The development is also opposed by mayors and other elected officials from those cities, many of whom say the county has ignored their concerns.
The original plan was vetoed by then-County Mayor Ben McAdams and underwent extensive revisions by the developers before the County Council granted its OK last month.
Utah law sets a high standard for referendum efforts. Now that Utah For Responsible Growth has secured county approval for the petition effort, they have 45 days to gather signatures from 16% of Salt Lake County’s active voters, both countywide and within at least five of the county’s seven council districts.
According to a state elections official, the number of active voters in the county stands at 541,555 — meaning opponents need to gather 86,648 valid signatures countywide to qualify for the ballot.
“We do not have any time to waste in order to meet our deadline, so we must take action now. We need your help!” said group said.
More information is available at https://utahforresponsiblegrowth.org/.