Skip to main content

South Valley Riverton Journal

Contentious rezone approved by Riverton City Council

Mar 31, 2023 09:52AM ● By Travis Barton

The Riverton City Council approved a contentious rezone in February that removed elderly housing from the Parkside development located near 13000 South and Sand Hollow Drive. (Riverton City)

The Riverton City Council approved a contentious rezone in February that removed elderly housing from the Parkside development located near 13000 South and Sand Hollow Drive.  

In a 4-1 vote, the approval for six acres of land on the development removed zoning that was originally passed in 2017 for an elderly housing overlay. That overlay, part of a larger 36-acre development that includes housing on its northside, originally limited tenants of the buildings to ages 55 and over. The approval removed that elderly requirement. 

“This rezone is a little unique,” said Jason Lethbridge, development services director, when presenting it to the council. 

In 2017, the Parkside project was originally approved with multifamily housing of 14 units per acre designated for the northside of the development. Lethbridge said in 2020, the site plan—approved by the planning commission—for those six acres loosely defined the area as “assisted living congregate care” which allowed for three-story units that could include a caregiver or other family members living in the home. 

The original owner sold the property with new owners Wright Homes applying to have the elderly housing distinction removed. Owner Derek Wright told the council the city’s standards for elderly housing have changed, disqualifying the project since one of the requirements would be main level living, a feature not possible on the three-story units they’ve already started building. 

Multiple residents turned out to voice their opinion, with more submitting comments via email. A majority opposed the project with residents, primarily neighbors, concerned that by removing the elderly designation, it would subject the area to increased traffic, additional strain on public services and delay their plan to form an HOA board. 

Robert Woods, who lives next to the property, was frustrated the city allowed three-story townhomes in a planned 55 and over community in the first place. He added it wasn’t incumbent upon the city to help out a developer who didn’t do his due diligence before buying the property.

“What (the developer is) not saying is he’s gonna have a difficult time selling these townhomes to 55 and up people,” Woods told the council prior to the vote. “That’s the crux of it, is to make money, which I understand, I’m a business owner, he’s trying to make money I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is him not understanding what he was purchasing and then trying to change it after the fact.

“I think the precedent is not a good look if you choose to remove the overlay.” 

Alex Reese, another neighbor, said it was “disingenuous” for Wright Homes to begin building “these structures knowing that they didn’t qualify for what was needed there.” 

“Bounds were set and it doesn’t make sense to hold the line and then change it at the end,” he said. “If there’s an issue, they should have thought of that before they started setting the foundation.”

Sarah Nelson, who also lives in the Parkside community, was against the proposed rezone, saying the streets are too narrow for more traffic, schools could be overcrowded further with influx of families and they need housing for the elderly. 

“Having more medium growth density will increase the usage of our already strained utilities and I would hate to see the residents that have already purchased properties punished for that,” she said.  

Daniel Horne lives directly west of the triangular-shaped area. He noted he is in the elderly community, saying the overlay would add age diversity to the community and reduce the number of vehicles in the area. 

“I don’t think there’s any problem with stairs, I was still running at 55,” he said. 

A couple people spoke in favor of the project, noting the project isn’t right for an older community and more families would be a positive. 

“A lot of it makes sense, I just think more families like mine should have the opportunity to move into the development as well,” said Manuel Palacios, who moved into Parkside last year. 

Wright indicated parking shouldn’t be an issue since each unit will have a two- car garage and driveway and suggested the city have Dutchman Lane connect east to Old Liberty Highway.

“That connection to Dutchman would be a huge benefit to this city as a whole,” he said later, adding it would have a large impact on community circulation as opposed to now where traffic can either go west or is funneled north to 12600 South. 

Wright said a traffic study was done which reported an additional 60 weekday trips would be generated with the elderly housing removed. Lethbridge said according to the city engineer the existing infrastructure and roads were designed to handle the increased volume. 

Reese questioned those numbers in the traffic study. “There’s no way you can tell me an elderly couple will have similar trips as a family like mine,” he said, noting he has two daughters in dance and two kids who do piano twice a week. 

Mayor Trent Staggs, who was on the council in 2017, said he recalled the elderly overlay’s purpose was to be less impactful, and was confused why buildings were constructed unconducive to elderly housing. 

Lethbridge explained the “assisted living congregate care” was the language the planning commission and staff were left with. 

“In retrospect, we (staff) should’ve been much more specific in what was approved,” Lethbridge said. “What was approved was not done in ignorance of or ignoring existing text. We did the best we could with the language that was there.” 

Councilmember Tawnee McCay—whose district covers this area—was frustrated those site plan decisions “need to come back to the council and not the planning commission.” 

To find a compromise, McCay said she was willing to remove the elderly overlay if they reduced the building height to two stories. 

“I’m sorry if the developer has to take down the current buildings, he shouldn’t have started building those,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a good product for 55 and over. I’m frustrated that it got approved by the planning commission.”

However, Councilmember Troy McDougal, who lives near the development and was part of a group that opposed it back in 2017, highlighted the city didn’t have a specific enough code at the time to prevent this situation. He said they can’t go back on what was already approved by the commission, risking reputational damage if they did. 

“I think it’s embarrassing to Riverton City that councilmembers want to go back on agreements we have made two-three years ago and try to change them,” he said. “We will hurt our reputation and our name in the community. We cannot be revisiting our decisions over and over and over again.” 

He stressed it was a “bad decision” the council made in 2017, and a motivating factor in him running for city council, but felt they couldn’t legally renege on that agreement nor go back on three stories being allowed. 

“I wish in 2017 we could’ve stopped this, everything we were concerned with is happening,” he said. 

McDougal pointed to their more recent efforts to enact clear, crisp guidelines in the city’s zoning, getting more specific in what’s allowed for senior housing. There are now other senior housing options in the city with two on 3600 West in addition to the one on 1300 West, he said. 

He felt they met the needs of seniors with other projects creating over 200 available units, but the city still has a shortfall in affordable housing. McDougal added the three-story units as elderly housing may not sell as quickly, delaying their HOA attempts. 

Councilmember Andy Pierucci agreed with McDougal that they needed to honor prior agreements to not risk legal or reputational ramifications. 

But McCay argued they spoke of a reputation to developers but not to the residents. The legal agreement was for a 55 and over community, she said. 

Pierucci said the market has shifted from 2017, with demand for senior communities starting to taper off and, even though his initial inclination was to not support this, questioned the impact of partially finished lots or empty townhomes. 

“There has not been consistency from the city on this, to the residents, the businesses, even among who the developers are,” he said. “This situation is a mess and it frustrates me because of the inconsistency. I commit to never support something like this again and we need to fine tune our process for how we approve our site plans.” 

McCay, the lone dissenting vote, later encouraged they discuss in the future what housing approvals come to the city versus the planning commission.