Coalville residents apply for referendum to “keep options open” regarding Wohali
Coalville residents who oppose the Wohali development have started the process to overturn its recent approval by putting the question to the voters.
Representatives of a local group called Coalville for Responsible Growth have applied for a referendum that would ask voters whether to overturn the City Council’s decision to rezone the land and approve the master planned development, according to one of the group’s leaders, Lynn Wood.
The application is in the early stages, with the city recorder and city attorney evaluating whether it has been properly submitted. Eventually, organizers would be tasked with gathering signatures from 35% of Coalville’s active voters, or around 240 people, for the referendum to make it to the ballot.
The earliest a vote could happen is next November’s general election, according to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, which oversees elections in the state.
The referendum’s organizers indicated, however, that the effort might not make it that far.
Wood said the group filed the application because of a looming deadline triggered by the City Council vote, and that members saw it as their last chance to potentially weigh in on the proposed development.
“We just want to keep the options open,” she said.
Mayor Trever Johnson said he has met with the group and attempted during a City Council meeting Monday to broker a conversation between it and the developers. He advised the group to determine what changes it would like to see “to make a good project great.”
Referendums are seen as expensive, and Johnson said, while the city would absorb the cost for what is legally required as part of the process, he would like to avoid that if possible.
An attorney for the developer estimated the cost to be “in the six figures,” but an attorney for Coalville for Responsible Growth disputed that, saying it could be much lower. Johnson said it would be difficult for the city to come up with even modest funding for a referendum, pointing to the challenges the city has faced trying to dedicate $11,000 for a veteran’s monument as an example.
Wood said her group would meet to try to determine the community’s desires and develop broad-based support.
At Monday’s meeting, the City Council passed a second ordinance relating to the 700-unit second-home community on the city’s west side that clarified conditions approved at last week’s meeting.
Coalville City Attorney Sheldon Smith said the latest ordinance confirms the findings of fact and conclusions of law passed last week.
At last week’s meeting, some conditions of approval were added by hand to the draft ordinance immediately before the vote, and the ordinance was not easily available online before the meeting.
Those conditions addressed the developer’s responsibilities for dealing with technical aspects of the project like water, affordable housing, open space restrictions and a cap on the number of primary versus secondary residents.
The list of conditions grew to 36 by Monday’s vote.
Notable conditions include capping the number of dwelling units at 570 and nightly rentals at 130, which the developer has long said is the plan, but the mayor said is not the maximum allowable under the new zoning; mandating that only 20 percent of the dwelling units may be used as primary residences to ensure secondary-home tax revenue for the city; mandating the developer is responsible for the cost of all new infrastructure; limiting the time the development may use the city’s contract water to three years; and mandating the percentage of primary and secondary open space and that it be deed restricted or attached to a conservation easement.
The developers and city officials have been negotiating a development agreement that will further delineate specific requirements.
The draft of the agreement is already more than 100 pages long, the city’s attorney said. If the agreement is not passed within three years, the land would revert back to its previous zoning of one unit per 20 acres.
Smith estimated the development agreement would be passed in a matter of months. He said it would first go through the city’s Planning Commission before the City Council, where there would be a public hearing.
Polly McLean, an attorney retained by Coalville for Responsible Growth, claimed that last week’s decision was the last chance city officials had to weigh discretionary factors like public opinion in determining how to vote on issues relating to the development. Once the zoning change was approved, she said, the city lost an important bargaining chip and future decisions will be administrative, referring back to whether they comply with what has already been approved.
An attorney for the developers advocated against allowing public comment during Monday’s meeting, saying “the policy weighing had already occurred.”
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A new proposal to redevelop the Colby School calls for an eight-room bed-and-breakfast, a far cry from the 55-room hotel suggested as the owners first embarked on this process five years ago. Neighbors have indicated they will oppose the proposal.