Wasatch Peaks Ranch development going to trial in Morgan County
Image supplied, Wasatch Peaks Ranch
MORGAN — After more than three years winding through the court system, a decision could soon be coming in the lawsuit filed by five Morgan County residents trying to halt the sprawling Wasatch Peaks Ranch development.
The bench trial starts Wednesday in 2nd District Court in Morgan in the suit the five filed asking for a reversal of the 2019 Morgan County Clerk’s Office decision rejecting their petition aimed at forcing a ballot question on the development plans. The proceedings, overseen by Judge Noel Hyde, are scheduled to continue through Friday.
“We’re just trying to overthrow the seven (Morgan County) Council people’s decision because they did not listen to the people,” said Cindy Carter. She’s allied with the five Morgan County residents who sued and was a target, along with them, in a separate suit filed by Wasatch Peaks Ranch, or WPR.
Morgan County Attorney Garrett Smith will be arguing in defense of the Morgan County clerk’s decision turning back the plaintiff’s petition in 2019. The case earlier made its way to the Utah Supreme Court on a jurisdictional issue and Smith said he’s anxious to see it resolved “so we’re not in limbo anymore.”
The WPR plans, already moving forward, call for development of a private residential community containing skiing, golf and other recreational amenities spread across 12,000 acres of largely undeveloped land.
Image supplied, Wasatch Peaks Resort
At issue in the court case is whether the five Morgan County residents properly filed the petition aimed at forcing a ballot question on the Oct. 30, 2019, Morgan County Council decision approving a zoning and general plan change allowing the WPR plans to move forward. The five — Whitney Croft, Robert Bohman, Brandon Peterson, Shelley Paige and David Pike — are leery of so much development on the land.
According to Carter, the county clerk rejected the petition, arguing that the five didn’t properly certify that they’re Morgan County voters and didn’t attach the resolution at the center of the dispute to their paperwork, as required. Carter said the certification argument has already been thrown out and that an official version of the resolution hadn’t yet been created when their petition was due.
It’s true the ordinance wasn’t attached to the paperwork, Carter said, “but the reason why was because the county didn’t have it.”
Smith counters that. “The reason that we have pushed this all the way to trial is because there are certain things that are required by law,” he said. It “wouldn’t be prudent” to ignore the law.
WPR lawyers will also take part in the trial, arguing, like Smith, that the county clerk was justified in rejecting the petition.
BEN DORGER, Standard-Examiner file photo
Even if the judge rules in favor of the five Morgan County residents, they’d face more work, setting aside the possibility of an appeal. If their original referendum were deemed acceptable, they’d have to gather enough valid signatures, 1,600 or so, to force the 2019 zoning and general plan decision to the ballot, probably in November.
Then, Morgan County voters would weigh in on whether the zoning and general plan measure allowing the WPR plans to proceed should stand. The original zoning allows for less development and is meant “to protect that mountain,” Carter said.
With work on the development already underway, what would come of the resort work already completed if the issue were to make it to the ballot and voters were to reverse the 2019 resolution is unclear.
In the second lawsuit related to the development, filed in 2020, Wasatch Peaks sued the five involved in the first suit and Carter, seeking $10 million in damages for their alleged interference with the development. Hyde last year dismissed the claim. Then the six residents filed a counterclaim demanding punitive damages from the resort for allegedly filing an unfounded action, according to earlier Standard-Examiner reporting.