Monday, December 10, 2012

Not Yo Momma’s Downtown Porvoo

100 West Center (looking west) in ca. 1878

 The rush to string together five words with the second letter o got the better of me.  Apologies to the Finnish city with the Swedish name of Porvoo.  It is almost Provo.

Recently my Municipal Council colleagues and I received a poignant letter from a longtime Provoan.  Though the letter primarily addressed a separate issue, it also lamented the changing cityscape in downtown Provo.  The writer fondly recalled former days when downtown Provo was in full charm and worried that it has slid too far to ever regain what once was.  It was not just the loss of stately buildings all in a row, busy shops, or a destination with pride of place.  It was something deeper, akin to the loss of a center, a heart, where generations could feel what it meant to be at home in Provo.
150 West Center (looking east) in ca. 1969

The City administration’s recent move to rebrand Provo with new slogans, icons, and wayfinding was designed to capture Provo’s distinction as the capital of “coming home.”   Though such sentiment extends citywide, it refers particularly to the city’s heart—its downtown.  Anyone with a sense of Provo’s past will recognize, as the letter-writer did, that downtown was coming unraveled, that it no longer presented its best face.  Moreover, its recovery would require displacement, rearrangement, removal, and replacement.

Increasingly Provo’s downtown promises to become the unique urban center of Utah Valley.  The confluence of new business, new transportation, new construction, new uses—all within the traditionally-defined array of city blocks—will cause downtown to rise, figuratively and literally.  It will be a place of vibrant, synergistic, and decidedly mixed usage—a happening place, “with it” domestically, commercially, spiritually, artistically, corporately, civically, historically.  It will be home to great and small, noisy and serene, metal-sheened and green.  Ultimately it will hardly resemble its former self, and it will go on changing.

Downtown Today

Will Provo’s center hold?  Will it grow up with good-hearted hominess and pioneer virtues—hard work, fearlessness, provident outreach, and big dreams—intact?  Time will tell.  Much will depend on the emergence of a critical mass of people who are there to live, work, shop, dine, tour, be entertained, or invest.  A bold new chapter has opened, with implications for all who call, and who will call, Provo home.

Hal Miller
Provo Municipal Council, District 3

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Downtown Assessment Area - a taxing mechanism on downtown property owners to fund downtown marketing and events - has been put on hold. See this Daily Herald Article about the meeting:

The Council asked their staff to develop several alternative options for consideration. This will be discussed at the November 13th Council Work Session. Want to weigh in ahead of the meeting? Comment below!

Nine Months Later . . .

Hal Miller represents District 3

                Nine months ago I took the oath of office as a member of the Provo City Municipal Council.  I promised to sustain the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Utah and to serve the citizens of Provo.  Essentially, I promised to serve each citizen legislatively, with an eye toward taxation and property use, specifically.
                The ensuing months have been laden with learning.  Reading, conversing, attending conferences, participating in meetings and retreats, and corresponding have been the primary means for learning.  My primary mentors have been my Council mates and our staff, the City administration, and fellow citizens.  I have much to learn yet and mentors still to meet, and thus much to look forward to.
                You might assume, and correctly, that much of my learning to date has been about the City’s infrastructures, both physical and organizational.  I have discovered a hidden side to those infrastructures.  That is, what you and I customarily see of the city and its working depends on a vast and unseen substructure.  Especially what we take for granted as the “taxpayer’s due”—roads and sidewalks, water and electricity, police and fire protection, storm and sewer drainage, garbage and refuse removal, , library and arts, parks and recreation, and . . . and . . .—is made reality by a highly competent and largely invisible network of people, who utilize a highly complex and largely invisible network of materiel.  And they do so with admirable espirit and efficiency.  What I have learned most of all thus far is that we citizens of Provo are paying unusually capable, creative, and conscientious people to maintain our city and move it ahead.
                A corollary follows:  Our city is best maintained and its future best served when citizens speak up, lend a hand, share their vision, and otherwise give themselves out of respect for the city’s past and an active interest in promoting the well-being and prosperity of all who call it home.  Although those duly elected or appointed and those whom they duly employ are constitutionally responsible for the city’s operations and policies, only broad citizen involvement can bring a genuine sense of community—that this is a place to take pride in and be part of.  Indeed, having come this gestational distance, I look forward to becoming increasingly alive to a Provo not mine, not yours, but Ours.

Hal Miller

Friday, September 28, 2012

Neighborhood Boundary Adjustments

The Provo Municipal Council is considering adjusting fifteen neighborhood boundary lines due to geographic reasons or obvious affinity with one neighborhood over another, and is seeking public input. The Council will consider the proposals for approval at the October 16 Council Meeting. You can review the proposed changes on this map and submit comments below or email them to

Friday, September 7, 2012

No Time To Know What's Going On?

Whether you have two minutes or two hours to devote to local government issues, the Provo City Council makes it easy for you to cue in. See

Two Minutes

Summary of Action

  • This is a snapshot view of what happened at the previous meeting. 
  • You can know the Council's decisions in two minutes or less. 
  • Summaries of Action should be posted the Wednesday afternoon after the meeting. 
  • New agendas for regular meetings are posted the Thursday before the meeting. 
  • Special meetings are alwasy noticed no later than 24 hours before the meeting. 
  • Don't want to have to check? Subscribe for email notifications at the State's Public Notice Website:

10-90 Minutes

  • Minutes are the official record of the meeting and are required to capture the substance of what happened, public comments and the official vote of each action. 
  • Minutes for the last meeting should be available the Thursday before the next regular Council Meeting.
  • All the printed information that the Council has for helping them make decisions, is available to you. 
  • Documents are organized by topic so you can just read the ones that intererst you. 
  • Documents are posted the Thursday before the regular Council meeting. 
Audio and Video
  • You may listen to or view exactly what transpired by accessing audio and video recordings.
  • Council meetings are organized by topic, so you can watch just the ones that interest you. 
  • Council meeting videos are available immediately after the meeting.
  • Work session audio recordings are available within a week of the meeting. 

10+ Hours

Well, you could watch, listen to and read everything!

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Council's Role in the MTC Height Issue

Next Tuesday night the City Council will hold a public hearing on a citizen-initiated proposed change to the Public Facilities (PF) zone and may make a decision on it. Some people have been calling this the Missionary Training Center (MTC) issue, but no matter what the Council decides, this will not likely affect the MTC. Before it can be said why this is the case, there's a bit of background that is needed:

The MTC Application
  • Last Spring, the MTC made an application to add a nine-story building to its campus, which is located in the PF zone. 
  • The current PF zone standards requires buildings over 35 feet to be two feet away from residences for every one foot of height (see figure 1). This is the standard that applies to the MTC nine-story addition. 

Figure 1 - Current PF Zone Rule (Scenario) - Click to Enlarge

Citizen Proposal
After the MTC application, a citizen initiated a proposal to change the PF zone rules. The proposal: 
  • requires buildings over two stories or 35 feet to get a conditional use permit from the City. 
  • allows tall buildings to be closer to residences (see figure 2).
  • makes the change in all PF zones across the City (see City zoning map).

Figure 2 - Proposed PF Zone Rule (Scenario) - Click to Enlarge

Planning Commission Recommendation
The Planning Commission doesn’t decide on this matter but recommends that the City Council deny the citizen-initiated proposal. 

If the City Council Approves the Citizen Proposal As Written, What is the Impact on the MTC Nine-Story Building?
There is no impact because the MTC’s application was made before the citizen-initiated proposal. The law protects applications from subsequent changes to the law. In other words, the application is grandfathered.

What Would Happen if the Proposed Amendment As Written Did Apply to the MTC’s Nine-Story Building?
The only effect would be that the MTC would be required to get a Conditional Use Permit.

Wouldn't a Conditional Use Permit Allow the City to Stop the MTC’s Nine-Story Building Proposal?
No.  Under the law, conditional uses are presumed to be allowed.  The burden is on those against the proposal to show that a nine-story building would:
  • cause unreasonable risks to safety because of traffic, parking, large gatherings, or other causes;
  • creates a need for essential municipal services which cannot be met;
  • unreasonably interfere with the lawful use of surrounding property.
What About My Property Value or View?
Under the law, a decrease in property values or the blocking of a property’s view is not a reason that the City can deny a conditional use permit. 

How can I make my opinion known to the City Council?

Come to the Public Hearing and Speak
The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, September 4. The meeting begins at 5:30pm but this is the 10th item under Council consideration. If you would like to speak at the public hearing, it is suggested that you arrive no later than 7:00pm.

You may email Council Members directly. Their email addresses may be found at You may also email the Staff Coordinator at

You may submit your comments in writing by mailing them to PO Box 1849, Provo, UT 84603 or deliver them by hand to the Council Office at 351 West Center Street, Provo. 

Additional Information:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Council Meeting Schedule Changes

At their August 21 meeting, the Provo Municipal Council approved an ordinance (4:1) that moves the start time of their regular meetings Council Meetings from 7:00 pm to 5:30 pm (held on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays). The approval also eliminated the need for the Council to hear issues twice (once at an afternoon study meeting and then again at the regular evening meeting). The change will go into effect at the September 4, 2012 Council Meeting. 

Council Members stated various reasons why they supported the changes, including:

For most issues, the sparsely attended afternoon study meeting proved to be redundant and doesn't allow the public to be present for the presentations and discussions that are held there. 

Moving all the issues that are up for consideration to the evening meeting will increase government transparency by allowing the public an enhanced opportunity to hear all the facts, speak during public hearings and hear the subsequent Council debate.

Timing of Agenda Topics
As more items will be discussed in the evening meeting, the earlier start time will help the Council to retain a reasonable end time to their meetings. General information presentations will be held first with public hearings placed later on the agenda so that more individuals may participate in the discussion. 

The changes should reduce the number of hours that City staffers are required to attend meetings (some of whom are on hourly wages), thereby increasing efficiency and saving taxpayer money. 

The Council will retain the ability to continue issues to future meetings if they believe it is in the best interest of the City. 

Council Chair Laura Cabanilla stated that, “so many times the Council has heard an issue three or four times and so at times the public who hasn’t seen all of that is left wondering how the Council could approve such important issues so quickly. I really believe these changes will provide a better opportunity for Provo’s citizens to understand what is happening.”

After acknowledging the recent shift to a paperless office, Council Member Sterling Beck stated that “the Council office is continually trying new ways to improve the process. This will be done on a trial basis, and if we see that public attendance drops off, we will fix it and fix it rather quickly.”

Council Member Kay Van Buren voted against the proposal. “I supported the reasons for the change but had hoped that we could have established a 5:00 pm start time as originally proposed.” Council Members Hall Miller and Gary Garrett were attending to other commitments and were excused from the meeting.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Council Member District Amendments - Open House

Redistricting Open House
The Council is very interested in making the best and most well-informed decision regarding Council Member District adjustments, and they want you to help them do just that. Please visit and share your insights with them at an open house on June 28, 7:00pm, in the Council Chambers at 351 West Center Street.

Come prepared!
More information regarding the redistricting process and specific proposals may be found here.

What is redistricting?
State law requires that Council Member Districts are of substantially equal population (+/- 10%) and that it must be evaluated and adjusted after every Federal Census. There are five Council Member Districts and two City-wide positions. The deadline for the Provo City Council to adjust district boundaries is July 27, 2012.

Citizen created maps
The City created a online interactive tool that allowed citizens to develop their own concepts for redistricting. Although the submission period has closed, you may view all of the submitted maps at

Citizen Advisory Committee
The Council's Redistricting Committee established a citizens' advisory panel to study the citizen created maps and provide feedback regarding them. Their report and top six maps may be found here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Council Celebrates Opening of the Harmon House Apartments

From left: Steve Densley, Gary Garrett, Laura Cabanilla,
with Mr. Harmon at the microphone.
Council Chair Laura Cabanilla, and Council Members Gary Garrett and Gary Winterton celebrated the opening of the Harmon House Studios at 145 East Center Street.

Last August, the Council paved the way to allow this historic building to be restored to residential use by amending Downtown zoning laws to permit more flexibility in minimum unit size in existing buildings. This restoration and addition brings 24 new residential units to the heart of Downtown Provo, which action supports Provo City's Vision 2030 and General Plan.

Council Begins Review of Mayor's Proposed Budget

Live Post

Police Chief Rick Gregory provides an overview of the Police Department's proposed budget.

Police Budget
Council Members began their review of Mayor Curtis' proposed budget by hearing from Police Chief Rick Gregory on police funding needs. The proposal adds six new officers to the force, a step toward implementing recommendations by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

Preventive Maintenance Road Funding
Council Members established preventive maintenance road funding as a priority for Council study earlier in the year. They are examining various funding options and trying to determine the most equitable and fair approach to a difficult shortfall. Council staff has prepared a budget analysis on road funding issues. 

Future Meetings
The Council is planning additional budget meetings for the last week of May to discuss the budget with other City directors. The first public hearing on the tentative budget will be held in the City Council Chambers on June 5, 7:00 pm.

What do you think?
Share your opinion on the condition of Provo roads below.