LAYTON — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is distancing itself from any position on a land referendum on the ballot this November, even though the church owns the property on which a potential development would be located and teamed with the city to help hire a consultant for the project.
Church Spokesman Scott Trotter issued a short statement on the West Layton Village property matter late Monday, after the church became part of the narrative on the issue, initiated by a group that forced the issues on the ballot. The group, Citizens for Responsible Growth, claims the church had unofficially apologized for appearing to be a force behind the potential development.
PRI, a real estate arm of the church, manages the property in question.
The referendum issues challenge the West Layton plan policy change for 107 acres of farmland in West Layton, which runs along Hill Field Road between 2200 West and 2700 West, and the adoption of an urban development code needed to create the urban community under the new policy.
CFRG issued a series of news releases last week suggesting that PRI Managing Director Mark Gibbons had contacted a local church leader in September to apologize for contention raised over the West Layton Village issue and for any appearance that PRI was driving zoning changes implemented at the city level earlier this year.
Contacted last week to confirm the action, PRI referred the matter to the church’s public relations department, which issued the statement.
“The decision to implement a Village Center zoning code in West Layton is a city issue and will be decided by city officials and citizens in the referendum next month. PRI, the real estate arm of the Church, owns 107 acres of welfare-related farmland in this area that will eventually be developed. Neither PRI nor Church leaders are attempting to influence the upcoming vote,” Trotter said in the release.
The church’s role has gone beyond merely owning the land, however.
The church partnered with the city in hiring a consultant, PlaceMakers, three years ago to push the development concept. Mayor Stephen Curtis said the church fronted $70,000 for the consultant, while the city contributed $30,000.
After almost three years of planning, city officials approved three separate measures earlier this year related to creating a unique development on the west side, which has been most closely linked in concept to Daybreak of Salt Lake County.
Following the council action, a group of residents on the west side, initiated a petition process to challenge two of the three council actions. Those two land use initiatives will be on the ballot Nov. 6.
Residents are angry that city officials moved the village project forward despite opposition and have argued the project will bring significant traffic problems to the region, will be bad for farmers in the region and will change the character of the area. By voting no on the land referendum questions, they say the land’s future use will revert to R-3 zoning, with one-third-acre lots.
There seems to be little question the 107-acre property will be developed.
Brian Balis, land manager for Suburban Land Reserve, said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints intends to sell the property.
“The chances of this remaining in agricultural are none,” Balis said earlier this year.
Balis said the church has two options in dealing with the land, and they include selling outright to a developer or engaging in the long-range planning process. Balis said the church opted to be part of the planning process.
City leaders said the plan has come as the result of looking to the future and taking advantage of the chance for a unique development.
The formed based codes called for in the development proposal allow city leaders to be much more specific and up front and with what any development proposal will look like, said Bill Wright, community and economic development director.
Wright describes the code as scripted guidelines on what type of buildings would be allowed, specific streetscape guidelines and a blending of different mixed uses. He and other city leaders admit the project will require a unique developer.