Morgan ski resort referendum backers want punitive damages from developer
MORGAN — Developers of the 11,000-acre Wasatch Peaks Ranch ski and golf resort have pursued a multipoint strategy of intimidation to thwart a voter referendum on the project, sponsors of the ballot initiative allege.
The residents made the allegations this week as their attorneys asked a court for permission to delve into the developer’s finances to calculate punitive damages the residents are requesting.
According to court depositions, WPR Managing Director Ed Schultz contacted relatives of two referendum sponsors warning the sponsors that they would be sued if they went through with a Utah Supreme Court appeal to keep the referendum alive. Also, a Morgan County Council member called the husband of one sponsor telling them she could be sued and the couple might lose their house, according to the documents.
The Morgan County Council on Oct. 30, 2019, voted 6-1 to rezone the land and seal a development agreement with WPR. The referendum backers had to file their petition by Nov. 6 and they gathered in the county clerk’s office shortly before 5 p.m., the deadline.
Schultz and a WPR attorney, Allison Phillips-Belnap, said later in court declarations that they were there at the same time to deliver WPR’s completed development agreement. Phillips-Belnap said she was in the lobby waiting for Schultz and heard one of the sponsors talking about the petition as others were filling out documents.
According to a text message string entered into the court record, Phillips-Belnap messaged Schultz, “She doesn’t have it straight so let’s pray they f—– it up, or will.”
After the sponsors filed the petition and left the county office, Phillips-Belnap approached the clerk’s staff and told a clerk to put a time stamp on the petition. The clerk did not have a time stamp, so the attorney told her to write 5:05 p.m. on the document, which she did. Phillips-Belnap said that was the time stamp on her phone. The missed deadline was one of several grounds that WPR would cite in its subsequent efforts to stop the referendum.
Other documentation included a letter by WPR to county officials on Nov. 8 saying they would sue the county if it did not throw out the referendum application. The county clerk did so two weeks later after sending WPR attorneys an unsigned copy of the denial letter for approval, the sponsors said.
After the clerk rejected the referendum, the sponsors petitioned the 2nd District Court to reverse the county’s refusal. A judge later ruled he lacked jurisdiction, so the sponsors made plans to appeal to the Utah Supreme Court — an appeal that was later successful.
In the days before the deadline for a Supreme Court appeal to be made, Schultz called Brent Bohman, brother of petition sponsor Robert Bohman, to tell him that “if they filed the appeal, that WPR was going to sue them.” Brent Bohman said he relayed the message to his brother.
Schultz also called Coby Johnson, a relative of petition sponsor Brandon Peterson. Johnson said in his deposition that Schultz told him, “You’ve got to warn Brandon that if they go through with the referendum, that my group is going to sue them.”
Shelley Paige, one of the referendum sponsors, testified that Robert Kilmer, the council member, called her husband to tell him that if Paige and the others did not give up their efforts, the Paiges “might be sued and lose their home.”
After the appeal was filed, WPR sued the six for $10 million, saying the company had suffered economic interference and lost business. The referendum sponsors responded that the suit was a tool to intimidate and silence the residents with expensive, baseless legal proceedings.
Judge Noel Hyde later dismissed WPR’s suit, leading to the residents pursuing their counterclaim and going after punitive damages.
Schultz had said in a court declaration that two investors, planning to commit $5 million each, had backed out of the development. The residents later obtained for the court an email from one of those two investors that said they both planned to resume their investments after the legal challenges were dealt with.
An email detailed WPR’s strategy to stop the referendum: litigation; “plan B” contingency plans to incorporate the development area or try to get it annexed into Davis County; and “back door efforts” to seek politicians’ support. Those to be approached included former state Rep. Logan Wilde, said to be close to a judge, and Gov. Spencer Cox, who as lieutenant governor took action to shut down an initiative petition.
Efforts to contact Schultz and Mark Gaylord, WPR’s lead attorney in the legal cases, were not immediately successful. WPR has not yet filed a response to the request for access to the company’s financial information.
In a news release last week, the referendum sponsors said that “WPR is interfering with (sponsors’) legitimate participation in government and abusing the legal processes by misusing its lawsuit to intimidate them and keep the biggest land use decision in Morgan County away from the voters.”
On the referendum case, Hyde ruled on July 22 that the referendum sponsors “substantially complied with the applicable certification statute.” However, he scheduled an April 19, 2023, bench trial on other items listed in the county’s rejection of the petition.