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Morgan County files court documents opposing ski resort referendum

By Mark Shenefelt - | Dec 7, 2021

Photo supplied, Wasatch Peaks Ranch

This undated photo shows a portion of the 12,000-acre Wasatch Peaks Ranch private ski resort development area in Morgan County.

MORGAN — Morgan County officials have asked a judge to block a residents group’s drive for a referendum to decide the fate of the Wasatch Peaks Ranch ski and golf resort development.

County Attorney Garrett T. Smith, representing the county and Stacy Netz Clark, the county clerk, filed a memorandum in 2nd District Court on Nov. 23 urging Judge Noel Hyde to deny the residents’ request for summary approval of their appeal.

If Hyde rules in favor of the appeal by residents Whitney Croft, Robert Bohman, Brandon Peterson, Shelley Paige and David Pike, the county may be forced to conduct a referendum vote, which would threaten the resort, now well under development.

The residents sued the county after the county clerk in 2019 denied their application for a referendum, saying the petition did not meet requirements of state law. Hyde initially denied the appeal, saying he lacked jurisdiction in the case. The citizens appealed to the Utah Supreme Court and won, the case bouncing back to Hyde to decide it on the merits.

Still to come in the court fight is the resort’s response to the citizens’ renewed request that the referendum go forward. The resort has entered the case as an intervenor on the county’s side, in defense of the Morgan governing body’s decision in 2019 to create a resort special district and enter into a development agreement with Wasatch Peaks Ranch.

The developer is building ski runs, golf courses, housing and infrastructure on an 11,000-acre tract spanning south and west of the community of Peterson.

Smith, in his Nov. 23 court filing, said Hyde should not issue a summary ruling in the citizens’ favor because he said they did not meet notarization requirements or certification of the referendum backers’ residency and failed to include a copy of the challenged resort ordinance with the petition.

“The case law is clear, requiring strict compliance with statutes governing referendum petitions and the standard of review for legal correctness,” Smith wrote. “Petitioners have failed to comply with the clear requirements of the referendum statutes. Additionally, the notarial acts performed by Whitney Croft are illegal and incorrect.”

The county said Croft was out of bounds because she notarized the residents’ certifications. The county argues state laws prohibits notaries from notarizing petitions in which they also are petitioners.

“If statutory requirements are not followed or selectively ignored, it devalues the force and clarity of law,” Smith said.

The residents’ attorney, M. Darin Hammond of Ogden, filed a motion on Oct. 19 asking Hyde to overturn the county clerk’s rejection of the referendum application.

In 2020, Wasatch Peaks sued the five referendum petitioners and a sixth referendum backer for $10 million apiece, alleging conspiracy and illegal business interference, but Hyde dismissed that suit earlier this year.

In November, the Morgan County Commission gave preliminary approval to the first subdivision at the resort. County Planning Director Lance Evans presented the subdivision plat to commissioners, saying the action in favor of the 483-acre, 50-lot area would allow Wasatch Peaks to begin selling the lots to future resort residents.

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