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Development company seeking opinion on Orem building moratorium

By Genelle Pugmire - | Aug 25, 2021

This undated panorama photo shot by a drone shows the city of Orem. (Courtesy Orem City)

Wright Development, which owns the property that formerly housed the Meadow Gold ice cream plant at about 900 South and State Street in Orem, has requested an opinion from the state property rights ombudsman about a building moratorium that could delay construction for more than six months.

On Aug. 8, the Orem City Council called a special council meeting to address implementing a moratorium lasting up to six months on new applications for building so that the council along with city leaders and stakeholders could assess the State Street Master Plan, approved in 2019, to see if it needs tweaking or adjustments.

The special meeting was requested by residents who have been involved with the 1600 North buildout of a mixed-use multifamily dwelling project after they expressed concerns about issues including height, parking, traffic and setbacks. Supporting them are members of the Southwest Orem Neighborhood Association.

Wright Development had nearly completed all of the necessary steps before a full application was to be brought to Orem’s Development Services department at the time the council met. The council voted 4-3 to put the moratorium in place, thus stopping Wright and other businesses from pursuing applications to build in the city.

Wright was to build a mixed-use multifamily unit dwelling, about five stories tall, with the ground floor housing retail businesses.

Orem has retained outside counsel in the event Wright were to sue the city. According to Stephen Earl, city attorney, the question is if the applicant was vested before the moratorium.

The greater concern, according to Jamie Davidson, city manager, is that housing and density is on the forefront of the next legislative session. Referring to the moratorium, Davidson said it puts a target on Orem’s back.

“House leadership is very focused on this subject,” Davidson said. “The dilemma is the Legislature is about all of Utah. It’s a one-size-fits-nobody solution.”

Davidson is concerned if the city does not provide the kind of housing and zoning that was affected by the moratorium, the Legislature could dictate those things.

“Orem is not driving the discussion,” Davidson said. He added that when the city starts adopting exclusionary moratoriums, the Legislature jumps in.

“There is not a lot of warm feelings for municipalities at the Legislature, in my opinion,” Davidson added, noting that many legislators are in the construction or real estate business or in supporting businesses.

Councilman David Spencer said he felt that Orem and Provo are not being treated fairly when it comes to the percentage of multifamily dwellings required. He pointed to cities like Alpine, which has a large stock of mostly upscale single family homes.

“This moratorium is a pause,” Spencer said. “It isn’t a target on our backs.”

Davidson responded, “Others will paint it in a different light.”

Davidson said the Legislature is looking at cities’ impact fees, zoning, sales tax revenues, cost of building materials and deficiencies in workers. “There are no laborers to have built what we need to have built,” he said.

In the meantime, following the moratorium discussion, the council turned its focus to the State Street Master Plan and how they would start analyzing the various districts and housing options in each district.

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