Plans for an experimental coal-gasification plant in Kanab should be scuttled and declared “legally invalid,” because city officials failed to follow the city’s own regulations when they approved zoning changes for the plant, said a lawyer who represents a local citizens’ group that opposes the plant.

In a letter to city officials sent Monday, attorney John Barth said the city had failed to notify Kanab residents about the possible zoning changes, as well as changes to the city’s general plan, in a timely manner. He said the city had also failed to notify citizens about the details of the zoning change. Both shortcomings, he said, render the city’s decision-making on the plant null and void. Barth also said the city had disregarded Utah law when it changed the zoning.

“The city did not publish final notice of the public hearing for the city council’s approval (of changes to the general plan) until November 9, 2010, at 11:40 a.m. The city council public hearing occurred on November 9, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. – less than seven hours after publication on the Utah public notice website,” wrote Barth, noting the city’s own rules require public hearings be publicized 14 days in advance.

Barth is representing the Taxpayer Association of Kane County, which hired Barth on behalf of a local grassroots group called Kanab Cares. Formed in January in response to the proposed plant, Kanab Cares has yet to obtain official non-profit status.

Kanab’s City Council voted in November 2010 to change the zoning of a small part – less than 10 percent – of a 150-acre parcel of land Kanab’s southern outskirts. The 150 acres in question belong to Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).

Jim Guthrie, the owner of California-based fuels company Viresco Energy LLC, had earlier requested the city change the zoning of the nearly 10 acres he intended to lease from SITLA, so he could build an experimental coal-gasification plant on the parcel. He told the city he held patents for a new process of turning coal into gas, and he intended to build a test plant on the parcel he had leased from SITLA. Guthrie requested the city change the parcel’s zoning from agricultural to light manufacturing.

The problem, according to attorney John Barth, is the city approved the zoning change without informing Kanab citizens about Guthrie’s plan. Besides failing to give Kanab’s people ample notice, the city also failed to properly inform the residents about the specifics of what the zoning change would entail.

Barth also noted the city’s zone change on the parcel had disregarded Utah law, which frowns upon zoning changes that affect only a small parcel like Viresco’s, without affecting the rest of the 150-acre parcel.

In light of these failings, Barth asked the city to declare the zoning approvals invalid, and said he and the appellants in the case were willing to meet with city officials to resolve the matter.

“We expected city officials to obey the laws they themselves created, but that doesn’t seem to have happened here,” said Beth Kampschror, media liaison for Kanab Cares, the group of concerned local citizens who banded together to oppose the pilot plant in January.

Kanab Cares is a grassroots group of hundreds of people from all walks of life and beliefs in southern Utah’s Kane County and northern Arizona. It brings together local business owners, retirees, Native Americans, and other residents, who oppose the plant and favor smart growth and transparent government.

“We hope the city won’t disappoint us in its future decisions about this or any other development,” Kampschror said.