By Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

DRAPER, Utah (AP) - A Utah law allowing charter schools to set up classrooms and playgrounds regardless of zoning rules ends up causing more headaches than good, a state lawmaker says.

Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-Draper, proposes to undo the 2005 measure that he says hampers landowners, parents and others affiliated with the schools. The issue stretches statewide, he contends, but points to American Preparatory Academy in Draper as a chief example of such issues.

“We want charter schools. We need charter schools,” Cunningham told the Salt Lake Tribune. But the current rule, originally touted as a way to encourage more self-governing schools to open up in Utah, causes traffic backups for families and treats landowners unfairly, he said.

Critics of the proposal contend that developers should make allowances for charter schools. Repealing the special break, they say, could block more needed schools from opening.

John Price, a neighbor of the school who is a commercial developer and former U.S. ambassador, sees it differently, the Tribune reports. The 2005 law excused American Preparatory Academy from standard building procedures, allowing it to go up behind a commercial development in fast-growing Draper even though the spot had neither access to roads nor groundwork for water, power or sewer lines.

The school overstepped its authority, Price said, by cutting into fences he owns in order to build road gates.

“But because they don’t have to go to the city for approvals, the city didn’t get into this,” he said.

Brad Findlay, chairman of the board of directors for American Preparatory, said the issue comes down to a dispute over a two-foot sliver of land between the school parking lot and the public street. The muddy strip belongs to Price and not the school. Findlay said Price signed an agreement to let American Preparatory pave it as a path in and out, but that Price now refuses to do so.

So parents must use other roads, and that backs up traffic at pickup and drop-off times, he said.

Chris Bleak, the president of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said undoing the 2005 rule would have a “tremendous negative impact on all schools and particularly charter schools” when it comes to building.

But Jodi Hoffman of the Utah League of Cities and Towns said zoning helps communities plan and that many Utah cities require public schools to comply with zoning rules. Since 2005, Hoffman said, charter schools have had an “overwhelmingly positive” reception in the state, so the law might not be needed anymore, for the most part.

At the Utah legislature, House committee members on Friday decided not to vote on Cunningham’s proposal. They urged him instead to try more negotiations with charter schools before returning to the committee.


Online: HB104


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune,

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