Photo illustration of planned Wasatch Peaks Resort ski runs

This photo illustration shows a concept of planned ski runs and housing areas at Wasatch Peaks Ranch in Morgan County. The view is from Mountain Green Elementary School.

MORGAN — A citizens’ drive to stop development of the 11,500-acre Wasatch Peaks Ranch private ski community in Morgan County has been rejected in court.

At the conclusion of a hearing Wednesday, 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde ruled against a bid by five Morgan County residents to force a referendum vote on the project.

The residents sued after Morgan County Clerk-Auditor Stacy Netz Clark on Nov. 21, 2019, disqualified their referendum petition, determining it did not meet state law requirements.

The Morgan County Council had voted 6-1 on Oct. 30 to create a Resort Special District zoning area and join in a development agreement with Wasatch Peaks, clearing the way for work to begin.

By refusing to accept the zoning referendum application, Morgan County violated a provision of the Utah Constitution requiring that voters must be given such an opportunity before the challenged law is to take effect, the citizens’ suit contended.

They sought from Hyde an order mandating that officials place the zoning referendum on the ballot “without delay.”

However, even before they could argue the merits of their suit, they first had to attempt to overcome an intervening court petition by Wasatch Peaks, which asserted the district court did not even have jurisdiction to hear the ballot dispute.

Richard Reeve, a Riverdale attorney representing the residents, argued before Hyde in the Morgan courtroom that state law permits a district court to determine such a ballot dispute, although two sections of Utah law give confusing guidance on the issue.

After an hour of discussion, Hyde determined he did not have jurisdiction because the law requires a petitioner in such a case to first seek an extraordinary writ from the Utah Supreme Court.

A direct appeal to the district court would have been possible only if something prevented the petitioners from going to the Supreme Court, and nothing did, Hyde ruled.

Therefore, the merits of the citizens’ complaints are moot, he said, and he granted Wasatch Peaks’ motion to dismiss the referendum lawsuit.

It was not clear Friday whether the referendum fight is over.

Efforts to contact Reeve and his clients were not immediately successful. Nor were attempts to reach Nathan Marigoni and Mark Gaylord, who represented the resort developers, and Morgan County Attorney Jann Parrish.

During the hearing, Marigoni said dismissal of the suit was vital so Wasatch Peaks could continue work on the development.

In a letter to the County Council before the October vote, Whitney Croft, one of the five citizens who pushed the referendum, said the development “will certainly change the culture of Morgan County ... some of the most pristine areas of the state.”

Resort designs are in progress and the development will be iterative over the coming months and years, Wasatch Peaks holding company managing director Ed Schultz said recently.

The ski area itself will cover about 3,000 acres with a vertical rise of about 3,000 feet, he said.

A championship-level 18-hole golf course will be built, possibly with an additional 9- or 12-hole par 3 course, he said.

The development agreement allows up to 750 dwelling units. Similar private resorts have mostly a vacation-home population, so Wasatch Peaks expects the same.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!