Several times lately, I have heard County Commission Candidate, Jim Dyer, talk about the concept of summary abatement in the context of application of the new county land-use ordinances. Although Mr. Dyer’s warnings and concerns have been discounted and brushed-off by the Millard County Commissioners and land-use officials, I just want to say that the issues and cautions he has raised in this regard are real. On that score, I’d like to relate a little story.
The Story of the Troublesome Dairy with the Troublesome Fodder Barn
I have friends in Emery County who own and operate a small dairy farm. Their niche is grass-fed raw milk, which they sell for a premium on the Wasatch Front, and at a more reasonable price to locals on the farm.
Because they prefer to feed green grass year-round, they have what is known as a fodder system. They started out with a portable fodder system, and then started building a bigger, more permanent climate-controlled barn to grow fodder in year-round.
In the summer of 2012, I was working with my friends to help them expand their dairy operation. My dairy farmer friend is a former building contractor, and is used to doing everything according to Hoyle, so they applied for a building permit, and were jumping through every possible hoop. The barn construction project had progressed to the point that they requested an inspection of the rough plumbing and rebar so that they could pour the concrete floor. The contracted building inspector (who happens to be from Millard County) came out and did the inspection. Everything was fine, and the inspector signed off on it. They ordered concrete for bright and early the next morning.
That morning I milked the cows so that my friend and his brother could pour the concrete and finish the floor. Milking cows is better than finishing concrete any day! I was about half done milking when my friend’s wife came and got me, and said there was a problem and they needed my help. I asked what was going on. She said “You’ll see.”
When I got out to the new barn site, in addition to the concrete truck and driver, there was a shiney car and an unfamiliar face. Another building inspector (who also happened to be from Millard County) had shown up. Despite the fact that they were right in the middle of a concrete pour, he had promptly announced “I’m shutting you down.” When my friend asked why, the inspector said that he had reviewed the inspection from the previous day and noticed that they had made a minor change to their plans without telling the county planning commission, and although it had all passed inspection and everything was legal and according to code, they couldn’t proceed until they got on the agenda and came back to talk to the planning commission, and everything was okay’d. My friend tried to talk to him for a few minutes, and then said “look, as much fun as this has been, I’m right in the middle of a concrete pour, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish this pour.” It was the middle of July, and the concrete was not going to wait. He also asked his wife if she would go get me, and ask me to come help deal with the building inspector.
I am not going to share the details of our conversation, but about an hour later I was able to go finish milking the cows, and the building inspector left and never came back.
The Completed Fodder Barn . . . and What it Produces
Meanwhile Back at Our Ranch
At this point, my family and I have lived in Millard County for over 10 years. We bought the core of our ranch property over 12 years ago. Most of our time in Millard County has been spent on our place along Corn Creek in the very Southeast corner of the county, just outside of Kanosh.
Despite being fairly outspoken on some issues, including the Millard County Attorney’s office arrangement, and the circumstances surrounding Corey Kanosh’s death, in the 10+ years that we have owned property and lived in Millard County, until the Spring of 2014, I had had virtually no interactions with Millard County’s planning and zoning department. That has been the case for a reason. I’ve been around the horn a time or two, and I understand what happens when you invite them into your life — it almost immediately becomes much more frustrating, complicated and expensive. Consequently, I had never even met, spoken with, or had anything to do with Sheryl Dekker, Millard County Planning & Zoning Administrator.
Asleep at the Switch
I will have to admit, however, that I had been completely asleep at the switch when the Millard County Planning Commission and County Commission had been discussing the new land-use and zoning ordinances that they adopted at the end of 2012. That is because I spent most of 2012 working with my friends in Emery County to expand their dairy operation, and I simply wasn’t around, or paying adequate attention. If I had known what Millard County was up to, there is no question, I would have been there, and they would have heard plenty from me. Instead of having all this discussion now, we would have been having it then.
In the past year, we have bought several new pieces of agricultural property. It wasn’t until questions came up about one of those properties that I had occasion to re-check the applicable Millard County Land-use Ordinance. That is when I learned, for the first time, about the big change. Because I have been actively involved in agriculture, real estate and land-use, including planning and zoning, for the past 25 years, I was stunned when I read the new ordinances. For a rural area, they are as intrusive and overreaching as anything I have ever seen, anywhere. For several weeks or even a month after that, I just kept scratching my head, wondering what to do about it.
When faced with a somewhat similar situation here in Kanosh a few years ago, we ran a referendum, put the new land-use ordinance to a vote of the people, and ended up voting down the new ordinance by a margin of 3-1. Unfortunately, by the time I became aware of Millard County’s new ordinance, it was too late to run a referendum on Millard County’s new monstrosity.
The Importance of Watching Public Notices.
At the recent Meet the Candidates Events, Commissioner Daron Smith asserted that because no one showed up at a recent planning commission meeting, no one cared about what they were doing or talking about. But if other people were like me, and everyone I have talked to was, they simply didn’t know about it. If we had known, we would have been there. It’s hard to keep up with everything the county is up to — especially when they do only the bare legal minimum to be transparent and keep people informed.
Although, obviously, I am not as good as I should be about about watching the Public Notices, in January of this year, I did happen to catch a glimpse of a notice that the Millard County Planning Commission was holding a public hearing to discuss possible changes to the new ordinances. Up to that point, I hadn’t expressed a word to anyone at Millard County, about my concerns.
Here Comes TROUBLE
I wanted to get a copy to see what was being proposed. Although the notice said that copies were available in Delta, I quickly found out that copies were not available anywhere.
Finally, on February 1st, just days before the hearing, I sent an e-mail to Sheryl Dekker, Millard County Planning & Zoning Administrator. This is what it said:
I understand the Millard County Planning Commission is having one or more public hearings on 2/5/2014.
I understand the public hearings involve proposed changes to the current Land Use Ordinance that was apparently adopted in 12/12, as well as the Subdivision Ordinance.
I would like to get copies of whatever is under consideration.
Are the proposed changes available in digital format?
Are hard copies available at the county seat in Fillmore, including at the courthouse? If not, why not?
I would like to share what I got back several days later, just before the hearing, that she forwarded to me from Bruce Parker, Millard County’s private land-use consultant:
Please find attached proposed changes to Title 10 as requested. http://www.millardcounty.org/PC_-_CODIFICATION_CORRECTIONS_PC_Public_Hearing_02052014__Z-2014-002.pdf
Also attached is the prosed new subdivision ordinance – Title 11. http://www.millardcounty.org/MILLARD_COUNTY_-_SUBDIVISION_ORDINANCE_-_PLANNING_COMMISSION_PUBLIC_HEARING_DRAFT_-_2_5_2014.pdf
Someone picked up a copy of this draft this morning at our office in Delta.
I am now posting the changes to Title 10 on the County website: http://www.millardcounty.org/index.html as well as the State Public Notice Website: http://www.utah.gov/pmn/index.html
Sheryl L Dekker
Millard County Planner
71 South 200 West
PO Box 854
Delta, UT 84624
NOW, THIS IS THE INTERESTING PART. PLEASE CHECK-OUT MRS. DEKKER’S EMAIL TO MR. PARKER, THAT SHE FORGOT TO DELETE, WHEN SHE FORWARDED HIS E-MAIL TO ME.
From: Sheryl Dekker [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, February 03, 2014 8:48 AM
To: ‘Bruce Parker’
Subject: FW: Planning Commission Public Hearings
This guy is trouble with a capital T. . . . Do you have anything on the amendment to Title 10 yet? I will respond to this this morning. Title 11 is online and I will forward him a copy by email. If he wants a printed copy he can come to Delta or print it himself. Thanks,
Sheryl L Dekker
Millard County Planner
71 South 200 West
PO Box 854
Delta, UT 84624
It sounds like my reputation precedes me.
It was after attending that meeting, and several others, that I started writing letters to the Millard County Chronicle Progress. I haven’t been shy or bashful about how I feel about these new ordinances. In addition to verbal comments to both the planning commission and county commission, I have also submitted extensive written comments. Although the commissioners say that there is little interest in these issues because no one shows up or says anything, how much attention do you think they have paid to my comments? None! They’ve never actually read the ordinances, do you think they’ve read my comments? If so, there is no indication of that.
At this point, all I can say, based on my 25+ years of experience and observations, is that Millard County’s new land-use ordinances are indeed TROUBLE with a CAPITAL T.
Summary abatement can take on a variety of forms, all of which allow the local governmental authority to come on your land and take some form of action, including completely shutting you down, with little or no due process whatsoever.
I said that I wasn’t going to share the details of my conversation with the building inspector that day, but I will say just this much: he made it very clear to me that he gets a kick out of doing this — shutting people down, and causing them problems. Among other things, he bragged about all the times and ways in which he had done it. And that is what our tax dollars are being spent to make happen.
Please don’t be naive enough to think that it doesn’t happen. Contrary to what the commissioners who passed the law have said about it, please don’t be naive enough to think that the language doesn’t mean what it says; that it will not be enforced, and/or; that our county elected and appointed officials and the building inspectors they employ are not willing to serve a full plate of harassment, including Red Tags and Summary Abatement for breakfast — and it could be right when you’re in the middle of a concrete pour.
But when (not if, but when) it happens, please don’t say I didn’t warn you.