Polygamists ask for campus zone

BLUFFDALE – Call it one big rezone application.

The request for a “campus overlay zone” by the polygamist group – the Corporation of the Presiding Elder of the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB) – is raising some interesting questions in the fast-growing city of Bluffdale.

Not least among them: What is a campus? What is a family?

AUB officials, who already have a school and chapel on 31.5 acres in Salt Lake Valley’s southernmost municipality, want to create a “campus” that would include 24 housing units in two “six-plexes” and three “four-plexes.”

There are about 7,000 members of the polygamist church living statewide, AUB officials say.

The topic of “campus” housing at a public hearing Tuesday got members of the Bluffdale Planning Commission wondering exactly who would live on such a campus.

Bluffdale planners have yet to specify what the term “campus” means, but city code defines a family as two or more individuals related through blood, marriage or adoption. No more than two unrelated people can cohabit a dwelling, according to the Bluffdale ordinance.

The issue of polygamy was never raised Tuesday.

But despite Utah’s criminal ban on the practice, any person or group can apply for a zone change, said Bluffdale Community Development Director Vaughn Pickell. Whether any person or group is not adhering to the state’s polygamy law “is beyond my jurisdiction,” he said.

Presently, the AUB’s private K-12 school is limited to 200 students, church representative Brooks Baker told the Planning Commission. Church officials would like enrollment eventually to grow to 650.

But the proposed housing is not necessarily for students, Baker explained. It could be for school staff, elderly church members or others.

Existing zoning would allow AUB to build housing at a density of no greater than one unit per acre – a potential total of 31 houses on their land. The so-called campus-overlay zone would not allow for more buildings but would set the groundwork for approval of a specific site plan for the entire acreage.

“This is so we can get this approved one time, so we don’t have to go through everything [in the planning approval process] every time we build one new building,” Baker explained.

But commission member M.J. Jackson wondered how many people would be living in each of the planned 24 housing units and what the definition of a campus should be.

“This sounds like an apartment complex to me,” she said. “This is not a true campus. We’re building a place where people can come to live” rather than student housing.

Planning Commission members asked Pickell, the community development director, to define how many people would inhabit each housing unit and specify how much parking should be required. The commission also asked Pickell to define the term “campus” in exact terms so that Bluffdale doesn’t find itself home to facilities it may not desire.

“This is ideal for someone to come in here and start a troubled-youth facility,” said commission member Von Brockbank. “We have to protect the city from any future flub-ups.”

Once those terms are defined, it could be in Bluffdale’s interest to create the overlay zone, said Commission Chairman Stanley Mitchell.

“I don’t have a real big issue with creating a campus zone,” he said. “It gives the applicant more leeway. But it gives us more control, too.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 6, 2007.
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