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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Petition doesn’t qualify for ballot, say city officials

Sep 07, 2018 01:45PM ● By Jana Klopsch

A special election was approved by the city council, though officials also say petition doesn’t qualify. Courts to decide.

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

If you thought the Cottonwood Mall redevelopment issue would die down, think again. 

In a press release issued on Aug. 3, Holladay officials determined the petition challenging plan approval for redeveloping the site are not eligible for placement on the ballot.

“This is a complex issue,” said Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle in a press release. “The city has an obligation to respect the referendum power of the people and a property owners’ land-use application rights. We are trying our best to balance both considerations.” 

The residents’ petitions seek to overturn city decisions approving amendments to a site development plan and a development agreement for the mall site that were originally approved in 2008. Holladay officials have consistently maintained the city’s decisions to adjust previously approved plans are administrative and not legislative, meaning they can’t be challenged through an initiative process. 

Preparing for every contingency, the Holladay City Council also unanimously voted on Aug. 2 to schedule a special election on Nov. 6 for the possible referendum. 

Holladay City Attorney Todd Godfrey said during the Aug. 2 meeting he feels the decisions are administrative and therefore “not referable under referendum power.” But he also understood “There’s a significant contrary opinion to the public and I think it’s appropriate the council give respect to that opinion.” Which may require a final determination by the courts.

Unite for Holladay, a local group of residents protesting the Holladay Quarter project, responded on its Facebook page Aug. 6, disappointed city officials “decided to reject the voice of nearly 8,000 residents.” 

“This is another example of our elected city leaders ignoring the voice of the people by essentially forcing a lawsuit against their own tax-paying citizens,” wrote the post, credited to Paul Baker and Brett Stohlton. “We consulted with several expert law firms familiar with these issues and we are confident the court will rule in our favor.” 

The post continued noting how different the density and commercial space in the Holladay Quarter project is “from when the site was originally approved for a mall in 2008.” 

“We are pro-development and want to see a great plan come forward on the site.” 

Godfrey acknowledged in the Aug. 2 meeting that the group met the requisite number of signatures — only 5,874 were required, 35 percent of registered voters in Holladay — but maintained his opinion the decisions were administrative. 

If the special election goes through, it would cost an estimated $20,000 to the city, but would not be incurred if dropped by Sept. 7. Godfrey said by adopting the resolution to schedule the special election, city officials can expect to spend that money, though it was accounted for in their last budget meeting. 

“Unfortunately, this has proven to be a divisive issue in our community,” Dahle said. “We are hopeful that this situation will be resolved soon so we can move forward together.”