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Zoning at the heart of a Utah medical center dispute

Over the past several months, a group of Salt Lake City residents has been leading a drive to attempt to force a medical care center for seriously ill and dying homeless people to leave their neighborhood or at least limit the expansion of its number of beds.

They have been worried that crime and traffic would increase, contending the center would be a gathering spot for other homeless people.

Officials at the Utah center have fought back, saying you never know who could be living in a million-dollar home. There could be pedophiles or drug dealers, they have said. What makes the quality of people in fancy houses any better, they wonder.

The battle has persisted since the center moved into the area last May. When the medical center needed to expand from the 16 beds at its original location, it found a skilled-nursing facility for sale. It was zoned for medical use, meaning the new owners didn't need to go through the process to have the property rezoned.

Now, the medical center directors want to expand the center. Its current zoning allows for 25 hospice patients and 25 ill people. They have applied for a zoning exception to allow 25 more beds, in case the need arises.

So just what is zoning?

Zoning regulations set the laws as to how a piece of real estate can be used and developed. Local municipalities around the country develop zoning laws to determine where residential, commercial and industrial buildings can be erected and specify everything from their usage, to distance from the street, to building height and size.

This will be an interesting case to watch as the situation progresses. Both sides will need an attorney experienced in real estate law to assist them as they present their cases for city officials hearing the zoning request, and perhaps ultimately, for a court challenge.

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