Powder Mountain town issue on two dockets

Jan 24 2010 - 11:48pm

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OGDEN -- A story that began in December 2007 with a large rezone request at Powder Mountain is now at the Utah Supreme Court and will find itself back in the Legislature in the session that starts today.

Just after the second anniversary of an incorporation petition being filed to create a town near the resort, the developers, Weber County and potential town residents are still deadlocked in a legal battle over the future of the as-yet unofficial town.

Legislation is also being proposed to allow residents to immediately vote on disincorporation.

The Weber County Commission approved the incorporation petition in August 2008, but commissioners refused to appoint anyone to fill the town government positions, so the town remains only a petition.

Powder Mountain resort owners filed for incorporation in January 2008 under a former Utah law stating any group that owned a majority of land and property value in an area with more than 100 people can draw boundaries and form a municipality with no input from the future residents.

After the commission refused to appoint the town council, the developers sued to force the appointment.

Several residents from the newly formed town also sued the commission, asking that an election be held for the town government and protesting the constitutionality of the law that first allowed the petition.

A June 16 hearing in district court was supposed to clear that up, but the parties couldn't agree on what the judge's order was.

Now both the Weber County Commission and possible residents have filed appeals with the Utah Supreme Court and were granted a stay against appointing the town government until the appeal has gone through, despite objections from the incorporation sponsors.

Briefs are due to the court Friday, after which oral arguments will be scheduled.

Jim Halay, who lives within the town boundaries, said the courts not only granted their stay but also are taking arguments earlier than expected.

He said residents opposing incorporation are hopeful this battle will turn in their favor.

Another lawsuit between the two developers was resolved when Pronaia, a Las Vegas-based company, bought half of the interest in the resort.

Maura Carabello, former spokeswoman, said Pronaia now owns the majority of the investment.

Multiple calls to Powder Mountain, Pronaia and Mark Arnold, the other developer, were not returned.

Those opposed to the town are also planning to fight incorporation at the Legislature.

A bill proposed by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, identical to one he sponsored in last year's session, would allow an immediate vote for disincorporation rather than waiting the normal two years.

The bill was the next to be addressed by the Senate, but the session was closed an hour earlier than usual.

Residents are also hopeful the bill will pass this year, because Sheldon Killpack, who just resigned from the Senate, was the one who stopped the session early to avoid addressing the bill, Halay said.

Froerer had been trying to work out a compromise between the parties to avoid legislation or further litigation, but the parties are too far apart to reach an agreement, he said.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said the developers requested their original numbers for large developments on the mountain and neither the county nor the residents were willing to consider that.

"The whole group of people were disenfranchised and had their representation taken away," he said.

"They were told, 'You will be a part of this town.' This bill simply gives them the right they should have had all along."

Froerer and Christensen said they plan to introduce the bill early to assure its passage.

Although both are hopeful it will pass, Froerer said he knows those pushing for incorporation will be lobbying against the bill.

"Obviously, the developers are going to take a hard stance and will lobby hard," he said.

"They said they spent about $250,000 to $300,000 to fight my legislation and they're prepared to do that again. So I'm not taking this as a slam-dunk because they're going to come out hard against it."

Froerer said the bill would not guarantee resolution of the lawsuits, but thinks much of the developers' incentive to continue litigation would be gone if they did not have two years before citizens could vote to disincorporate.

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