LIBERTY -- Garet Jones converted his grandfather's old bomb shelter into a meatpacking operation, but his neighbors, angry that dead elk are being cut up next door, want him to shut it down.
The dispute is awaiting a nonbinding opinion before the Utah Property Rights Ombudsman, which will decide whether butchering elk constitutes "agriculture."
The Weber County planning office says it does. The two neighbors to the immediate north of the property say it doesn't.
Both sides claim state and county law supports their side. That's why this has ended with both sides hiring lawyers. No lawsuits have been filed.
The butchering operation is north of 4100 North off 3800 East in Liberty. A concrete doorway cuts into the hillside on the west side of 3800 East. Because the hill is so high, the roof of the room that doorway leads to is level with the top of the hill.
The two neighbors, Bret Barry and Sandi Tuck, live in two homes north of the enclosure.
Garet Jones said his grandfather originally tried to raise shrimp in the underground room, but after that venture failed, it became the family storage room and bomb shelter.
He has expanded it, adding a septic tank, freezer and refrigerator, and put on a new roof.
If the names "Jones" and "elk" ring a bell, they should.
Rulon Jones' name is on the deed for the 6.15 acres in Liberty on which his son, Garet, and Garet's cousin Lance Jones have set up the meat-cutting business that has angered Barry and Tuck.
Rulon Jones was an NFL football star in the 1980s. He owns a hunting preserve in the mountains east of Liberty. Hunters from around the world pay thousands of dollars to hunt elk and moose there.
Garet said his grandfather actually owns the 6.15-acre plot, but put his children's name on the deed to make inheritance simpler. He said Rulon, his father, has no connection with the butchering operation.
Garet and Lance say their butchering meets all health and zoning codes and qualifies as agricultural use in an agricultural area.
Tuck, who lives two houses north, has been vocal that the cutting operation is not legal.
Tuck said she has served on local planning councils for years and disagrees that the cutting operation fits the definition of "agricultural."
"They are not connected (to the adjacent ranch), and that makes them totally illegal," she said Friday. "That makes them a commercial meat-cutting business in the middle of a residential agricultural district.
"Their side yards, their front, everything is totally illegal. They do not have parking."
Barry, the neighbor immediately north of the Jones property, said the situation just doesn't look right to him.
"This is a residential neighborhood -- you know, with children -- and I don't believe what they've applied for or the way they've applied for it is within the ordinance," he said. "As far as I know, they've applied for family use and have begun commercial slaughter."
In a legal brief about the dispute filed with the Utah State Property Rights Ombudsman, Barry's attorney, Jodi Hoffman, states that the meat-cutting operation violates zoning, will create noise and smells and is "contrary to the public interest."
The Weber County Planning Commission approved the use in September. Early this month, the commission approved its business license.
Weber County Planner Scott Mendoza said he knew the case had potential for dispute when Garet Jones' request came in.
"It would certainly be a commercial use if he was opening up a butcher shop," Mendoza said, but the Jones family also raises elk on that parcel.
"So he wanted to continue raising elk and be able to cut the elk meat," Mendoza said, but the elk would actually be killed somewhere else.
"To be honest, I looked at that and said, 'This is one I'm going to sit down with the entire staff and talk about it.' "
What the staff decided was that the county's zoning ordinance definition of "agriculture" was so broad, they needed to narrow things down.
In the Utah State Code, Mendoza said, agriculture is defined as "the science and art of the production of plants and animals useful to man including the preparation of plants and animals for human use."
Further definitions show that "preparation" includes cutting and grinding meat from livestock. "Livestock" includes domesticated elk.
Mendoza decided that fit what the Joneses were doing, but said he also knew it was a matter of reading definitions.
"We also looked at it from the other point. What if we didn't issue? These things can be turned around ... " and the Jones family could challenge him.
"So you can see the county was in a bind," Mendoza said.
Hoffman, representing Barry, said the county did "results-oriented" research, meaning it wanted the answer to favor Jones and looked for a way to justify that outcome.
"I think the county clearly fudged in favor of the applicant," she said. "They kind of grabbed definitions that fit their purpose."
Hoffman said the county planners interpreted broadly and in favor of the Jones family, when the planners clearly should have defended the neighbors instead.
Barry filed an appeal of Mendoza's decision to the Weber County Board of Adjustment, but then held that up. Instead, Hoffman said, she is taking the case to the Utah State Property Rights Ombudsman.
The ombudsman's opinion, expected possibly this week, is nonbinding, but Hoffman said his rulings are rarely opposed.
"The jurisdiction, which is often caught in the middle, gets this fair and unbiased look and can correct itself before it gets in too deep," she said.
She said if the ombudsman rules against Barry, he will probably accept that, but she declined to rule out further appeal.
Garet Jones showed the butcher operation to a reporter.
It is one large room with a refrigerator on one side, a freezer on the other and several steel tables in between. Elk is brought down from the ranch already skinned, gutted and quartered.
Lance Jones put a haunch on one table and began cutting it by hand.
A grinder for hamburger is the only machinery. Clients pick up their meat or have it shipped. None is sold to the public.
Garet Jones said the ranch used to send dressed elk to Ogden to be cut up.
"My cousin and I saw an opportunity to start a business and employ some people up in the valley," he said. "We're just some guys who wanted an opportunity to have a business."
They'll operate only three months a year, when hunters are shooting elk on the ranch, he said, and expect to handle about 100 elk.
His great-great-grandfather was one of the first settlers in Ogden Valley, he said, and he sees this as just an extension of the family's traditional life.
Sitting on the front step, he waved at a passing tractor.
"That's the shame of it," he said.
"Everyone in Ogden Valley wants agriculture and wants their houses surrounded by agriculture. When someone's trying to make a living at agriculture, that's horrible."