Morgan County opens door for new resort

Saturday , August 16, 2014 - 1:59 PM

MORGAN — In a 4-2 vote, Morgan County planning commissioners approved a recommendation to give 2,600 privately owned acres north of East Canyon Reservoir the designation of a master planned community, a zone that could open the door for development of a new resort town on land that currently nurtures sage grouse and other wildlife.

But first the board heard from a roomful of residents and landowners Thursday voicing support or opposition to the pending growth that’s knocking on the rural county’s door.

“Its a wonderful piece of property and we’ve earned the right to proceed to the next level. It should have been listed with the Envision Morgan plan. Why it wasn’t, I don’t know, but it was recommended to be on there,” said Glen Burton, a former Weber County commissioner who owns 60 of the 2,601 acres.

Burton, a former Ogden Valley resident who currently lives in Mesquite, Nevada, said he one day hopes to build a second home on his land.

Robyn Scott, a Realtor and developer in the Ogden/Layton area for more than three decades, is one of the major landowners in this area north of East Canyon Dam. 

”This land has been in my family since 1960. We do want to work with everyone in the county. We don’t want to destroy this area,” Scott told the planning board, noting that she’s working with various stakeholders “to see how we can make this a beautiful area, still keep the sage grouse, still keep the trails up there and make it habitable for all of us. Change is coming and Morgan County is slated to be one of the fastest-growing areas in the state in the next 10 years.” 

Scott, representing Yaryca LLC Profit Sharing Plan and Golden Hill Estate LLC, applied to amend Morgan County’s future land-use map in hopes of spearheading development there. She told the Standard-Examiner that 52 investors have an undivided interest in the land.

Bounded by State Roads 66 and 65 on the east, State Road 66 on the south, East Canyon Wildlife Management area to the north and west, and Summit County also to the north, the land currently sits vacant of homes and commerce, but sage grouse use it for periodic mating rituals and the historic Mormon Pioneer, Donner Reed and Pony Express trails  cross through it.

But Yaryca’s future development plans carry the potential to change all that, ushering in a mix of homes and commercial/recreational ventures. 

Allison Jones, director of the nonprofit Wild Utah Project, spoke on behalf of Gov. Gary Herbert’s conservation plan to preserve sage grouse on state and private lands.

“The science tells us that moving birds from one location to another actually doesn’t work. I’d like to see Morgan County volunteer to stand with the governor and say we know how to conserve this bird, to save this species and keep it off the endangered species list,” Jones said..

Cache Valley resident John Watkins also spoke up for the “fancy chicken.”

“For us, it has been a magical experience to wake up early, make the drive up here and be here at the crack of dawn,” Watkins said of his family’s trips to the area to observe the sage grouse lek. “As someone who has done a lot of exploring . . . I only hope that my son can tell his grandchildren, ’let me go take you to a special place.’”

Linda Smith, who lives in Morgan City, spoke on behalf of historic trail preservation.

“I’d like to caution that before the stewards destroy anything that cannot be replaced, that they stop and take time to learn the history of the area and to gain appreciation of what I consider a diamond in the rough,” Smith said, encouraging the landowners to incorporate the trails into their plans and treat them with respect.

Residents in the nearby farming villages of Porterville and Richville also expressed the desire to stave off growth and remain rural.

“This time of year, our water is so low. What are they going to do, haul in water?” asked Porterville resident Laura White. “The other thing is all the traffic. My husband loves to ride bikes but hasn’t ridden this year because it’s so dangerous. And if they widen the road, they’ll have to tear down some houses” — one of them likely her own.

Adam Chamberlain, a civil engineer who lives in Porterville, recommended proceeding with caution.

“If this could be done carefully, it could be done right,” Chamberlain said. “Morgan is beautiful . . . but once the damage has been done, it’s hard to reverse. When we introduce 1,700 homes, potentially that’s a lot of new faces in Morgan County.”

Debra Burton, wife of Glen Burton, countered that there is no plan for 1,700 homes.

“We’re talking about the map change to master planned community,” Burton said. “After the zoning is changed, the developer will have a certain amount of time to comply or it will go back to the previous zone. I think we’re putting the cart before the horse tonight.”

County planning staff favored the proposed change as being in harmony with the desire of past county councils to see the area develop as a resort, and to also boost county tax revenues.

Planning Commissioners Shane Stephens and Steve Wilson voted against the zone change recommendation, while David Sawyer, Debbie Sessions, Darrell Erickson and Micheal Newton voted in favor of it.Commission Chairman Roland Haslam did not vote.

“This is not the time or place for this,” Stephens said of the zoning change. “There are many concerns with it, and we need to honor the feelings of those who live here.”

Sawyer, who has lived in the county for two years, reminded the crowd that the county’s general plan already includes mention of a second resort in this area, in addition to the existing East Canyon Resort. 

“You can debate it all night and day, but that wording is in the general plan,” Sawyer said, warning against making development so difficult that revenue opportunities go elsewhere.

The planning commission’s favorable recommendation now goes to the Morgan County Council for a final decision. 

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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