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Request for observatory funding sparks debate in Kane County Commission

The Commission met in the School Board Room at the Kanab Center at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 15, 2023. Commissioners Wade Heaton and Celeste Meyeres were present at the meeting. County Attorney Rob Van Dyke was also in attendance. Commissioner Patty Kubeja was absent.


The meeting was called to order at 2:04 p.m. Commissioner Heaton welcomed those in attendance, including members of the public and elected officials that included Kane County Clerk Auditor Chameil Lamb, Kane County Office of Tourism Director Janette Peatross, Kane County Human Resources Director Rhonda Gant, and Kane County Treasurer Keiren Chatterly. Janette Peatross provided the invocation and Rhonda Gant led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance.


Seven members of the public stood to share their thoughts during the public comment period, including five who spoke in support of the Stellar Vista Observatory, and two who spoke in opposition to the proposed Bagley zone change ordinance. Commissioner Heaton thanked attendees for their participation.


After approving consent items, the commission addressed the regular agenda.


Item 1, Kane County Water Conservancy District Request to Amend District Divisions, was held over for action pending input from the public at a future meeting or town hall.


Next, Rich Csenge, of the Stellar Vista Observatory, presented on the value of the organization’s programs in support of a request for funding in the amount of $50k from the county to build an observatory. Discussion around this issue was lengthy and energetic. Csenge asserted that “astro-tourism” is a growing revenue source in the state, and outlined what he believes the benefits to the community an observatory would provide. There was some back and forth around promises of funding from the previous commission, though the commissioners agreed that no agreement binding the current commission had been made. At question also was the location of the proposed building, estimated to cost about $1.5M, within Kanab City limits on property owned by the Kane County Water Conservancy.


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Commissioner Meyeres noted that she was against the funding request, questioning any evidence to support the notion of astro-tourism as a meaningful revenue source, as well as the possibility of a lighting ordinance being emplaced within the county. “For me it comes down to basic principles,” she said, going on to add, “My understanding of the constitution is that it supports individual sovereignty,” and that providing taxpayer dollars as funding to an organization that advocates for ordinances that may cost even more money for businesses down the road is something she cannot support. Meyeres is on record in her opposition to the lighting ordinance passed by Kanab City Council in 2018.


Csenge, despite his documented advocacy for the City of Kanab’s Dark Skies ordinance, said there would be no similar effort by the SVO organization within the county. Meyeres was clear in saying she doubted this assertion. Commissioner Heaton noted that he supports the idea of an observatory but has questions about the funding structure and proposed location, suggesting that the conversation continue outside of the meeting and calling for a motion.


Commissioner Meyeres moved to deny the funding request. Commissioner Heaton voted to oppose the motion. With Commissioner Kubeja absent, the issue remains unresolved, and no further action was taken.


Agenda Item 3 was consideration of Zone Change/Ordinance 2023-24, previously before the commission on July 25th, regarding the landowner’s request to go from AG to R40 for the purpose of building as many as 70 tiny cabins. The county planning commission voted unanimously to deny the application, in part due to water use concerns. Commissioner Heaton noted that Kane County does not have a conditional zone change application process, and that water concerns would be addressed in the planning commission’s review of any future development plan applications. With this in mind, Heaton and Meyeres voted to approve the zone change request.


Agenda items 4 and 5 were housekeeping around amended plat and lot line adjustments recommended for approval by planning & zoning and passed by the commission.


Item 6 was discussion of a Potential Resolution Opposing the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Management Plan and was tabled for further consideration. The last agenda item established the Base Year Promotion Spending from Fiscal Year 2018- 2019 at $1.86M.


The commission moved to adjourn at 4:45 p.m. The motion carried unanimously.


Kane County Commission meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 2 p.m. in the School Board Room at the Kanab Center. Agendas and meeting minutes can be found on Utah’s Public Notice website at www.utah.gov/pmn/.

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