Coalville approves Wohali development

Yearslong process results in smaller, but gated second-home community west of city

A view looking west toward the Wohali project site with Coalville in the foreground.
Courtesy of Lynn Wood

The Coalville City Council on Monday voted unanimously to approve a key preliminary plan for the long-debated Wohali development, a proposed gated second-home community on the city’s west side.

It paves the way for 125 homes and 303 nightly rental units — including a lodge — built around 27 holes of golf nestled behind a ledge west of the core of the city.

While it may be out of sight for most city residents, it certainly hasn’t been out of mind.

The proposal has been controversial since before the land was annexed into the city’s boundaries in 2018, a move that doubled Coalville’s size.

Developer Jim Boyden, whose family owns the land along with other partners, said he was thrilled with Monday night’s approval.

He has said his team opted to withdraw a previous, larger proposal with the aim of being good neighbors and added that he didn’t think Wohali would change Coalville.

“It’s out of sight, and to my knowledge, it’s (behind) the world’s largest sound wall,” Boyden said, referencing the rock formation on the site eastern side. “… We’re excited to create a proposal that will economically benefit the community. That was one of the driving moves of annexing in the first place, to allow Coalville to be the beneficiaries of the tax revenue we generate.”

The project’s opponents have claimed the 125 second homes would change the city’s rural, historic feel and contribute to a “Park City-fication” of the East Side community.

They organized an opposition group, Coalville for Responsible Growth, whose members spoke loudly, consistently and specifically at the many public hearings.

The group rebuffed a previous approval by organizing a referendum and saw some city councilors take up their issues with the project, including its water source and the legality of the nightly rental arrangement

After Monday’s approval, few hurdles remain for the project to be built, with the still-pending approvals limited to administrative reviews of specific plans of what kind of buildings can be built where — not whether they’re allowed.

The approval came at the tail end of a lengthy public process, one that proceeded with fits and starts and included a previous approval almost exactly one year ago that allowed 700 units on the land, split between 570 homes and 130 nightly rentals.

The developers have long planned a golf-course centric community, but the first plan included amenities that would be open to members of the public, including miles of trails, a spa and a splash pad.

In the project approved Monday night, those amenities will be sequestered behind gates, available only to Wohali members. Boyden indicated it was necessary to increase the project’s exclusivity to maximize its value after the second application included far fewer units.

The developers withdrew the first application after the opposition group appeared certain to gather enough signatures to put the proposal to a public vote last June.

In February, the developers submitted the scaled-down proposal, essentially the original project’s first phase. That’s what was approved Monday night, a project that the developers contended they were entitled to build according to the land’s zoning.

The project received pushback until minutes before the vote itself, chiefly from City Councilor Rodney Robbins, who has consistently opposed the plan. Robbins ultimately joined his fellow councilors in supporting the project, but voiced doubt about the legality of the 303 nightly rental units.

The project calls for 125 homes, which the developers claim is allowed by the city’s development code, a contention that has met with little resistance.

But along with the homes, the project contemplates a main lodge and an uncertain number of outlying cabins that together would comprise 303 nightly rental units.

The developers claimed the cabins are “support functions” of the golf course resort, a use that is allowed under the city’s code. The opposition group disagreed, and brought the issue to the state’s property rights ombudsman.

The ombudsman is an impartial state entity whose role is to offer an alternative to litigation and nonbinding advisory opinions.

Confusingly, in this case, the ombudsman issued two differing opinions. The first, rendered in September, sided against the developers, and largely found that Wohali would not be allowed under the city’s code.

But the city’s project manager, Don Sargent, and the developers informed the ombudsman’s office that it was using an outdated version of the city’s code.

Coalville hired Sargent to work to update the code before the city took up the Wohali development application. Code changes require approval from elected officials.

Using the updated code, the ombudsman’s official opinion sided with the developer, an opinion Sargent cited Monday night in saying that the project satisfied the city’s requirements.

Opponents accused Sargent of updating the code in the developer’s interests, a charge Sargent denied and called slanderous.

“For good, bad or indifferent I have done my absolute best to keep a neutral position on this project,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “I’m not for it, I’m not against it. I have reviewed it to the very best of my ability — I’ve been doing this for a few years — of making sure this project complied with the development code.”

An attorney for the developer indicated that the city could lose a lawsuit and be forced to pay attorney’s fees if it went against an ombudsman’s opinion.


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