Wasatch Peaks Ranch foes score win in legal fight, but developer appeals ruling
MORGAN — Nearly four years later, a judge says the Morgan County residents challenging the Wasatch Peaks Ranch development properly filed their paperwork aimed at reversing the zoning change central to the project’s advancement.
Wasatch Peaks, which had tried to block the residents’ legal efforts, quickly appealed Friday’s ruling to the Utah Supreme Court. Still, the decision from 2nd District Court Judge Noel Hyde represents a setback in the Wasatch Peaks plans and a win for the residents who sued in late 2019 as part of their efforts to force a ballot question on the zoning decision that’s at the center of the controversy.
“We’re very happy,” said Dana Farmer, the Ogden lawyer representing the five Morgan County residents. The residents’ bid to challenge the Oct. 30, 2019, Morgan County Council decision granting the zoning change Wasatch Peaks officials needed for their resort plans to proceed, he said, “was valid from its inception.”
In a statement Monday, Wasatch Peaks said it disagreed with Hyde’s ruling and that it senses support from Morgan County residents as well as its Morgan-based employees. Despite the legal tussle, Wasatch Peaks has commenced development of the resort, which calls for skiing and golf amenities and new housing spread on a sprawling, largely undeveloped 12,000-acre parcel off Interstate 84 and west of Morgan.
Wasatch Peaks didn’t delve into legal questions in its statement, but rather said it plans to bolster public outreach to highlight what resort officials view as the benefits of the development.
“We look forward to broadening our conversation with community members about the contributions Wasatch Peaks Ranch has and will continue to make in the county, including increased funding for the school district, job creation and non-profit assistance,” said the statement. “We will be arranging additional opportunities for community members to engage with our leadership (one on one), ask questions and learn more about the project first-hand over the coming months.”
Whitney Croft, Robert Gohman, Brandon Peterson, Shelley Paige and David Pike filed suit against Morgan County on Nov. 27, 2019, after Stacy Netz Clark, then the county clerk, rejected their petition seeking a vote of the public on the Oct. 30, 2019, zoning change. Such petitions are allowed under state law, meant as a means for the public to challenge legislative decisions.
The residents filed their petition on Nov. 6, 2019, but Clark, who rejected it on Nov. 21, 2019, argued they didn’t comply with rules for such filings set out in state statute. The lawsuit followed six days later and Wasatch Peaks joined the case along the way on the side of Morgan County as an intervenor.
In ruling for the residents, however, Hyde rebuffed the grounds the county cited in its Nov. 21, 2019, decision, which centered on the certification of the residents’ Utah residency and a requirement about including a copy of the ordinance under challenge in their paperwork.
Hyde also rebuffed apparent questions over the exact time the residents filed their paperwork with the county clerk’s office. The deadline for the filing was 5 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2019.
Wasatch Peaks officials were present in the county clerk’s office at the time and asked clerk’s office officials to “make representations, both orally and by written notation on the Application, that the Application was submitted after 5:00 p.m.,” reads Hyde’s ruling.
Those efforts, Hyde went on, “were specifically calculated to support a later claim that the Application was not timely filed,” and the judge ultimately rejected them as “not determinative” of the actual filing time.
Hyde’s ruling hardly represents the end of the issue.
Even if the five Morgan County residents ultimately prevail in the appeal of the case to the Utah Supreme Court, they’d still have to get enough signatures on petitions to force a vote on the Morgan County Council rezone decision of Oct. 30, 2019. Then the question would go to voters on an election ballot and they would decide if the rezone action should stand or be repealed.
If it were put to voters and they backed the Oct. 30, 2019, decision, the Wasatch Peaks plans could presumably proceed. If voters were to repeal the rezone, however, Wasatch Peaks’ development would presumably run afoul of county ordinance, potentially stalling it, even though development is underway.
Farmer maintains that in light of Hyde’s ruling, Wasatch Peaks should cease development efforts until the case is resolved.
Morgan County Attorney Garrett Smith said his office is still weighing Hyde’s ruling as well as Farmer’s assertion that work on the project should cease, at least for now. “We’ll be weighing in on that issue,” Smith said.