Coalville residents express opposition to second-home development in hours of public comment
The Coalville City Council chambers were packed Monday night with an overflow crowd that came out for a public hearing about a proposed second-home development that residents worry could threaten the way of life for the rural East Side community.
Water issues once again had a prominent place in the conversation, as they did at a Planning Commission public hearing last month about the proposed Wohali development. But this time, many residents focused their comments on the identity of the community and what could happen to it if the development is approved.
Lynn Wood, who is active in groups advocating for more public involvement in the Wohali approval process, is one resident who spoke of what she sees as potential disharmony.
“What happens the first time someone takes their ATV up there and tries to valet it?” she asked the City Council. “What about the dress code on the golf course — are you going to allow camo up there? There’s a lot of camo in this town.”
The City Council did not make a decision on the development application, instead voting to keep the public hearing open until its Dec. 9 meeting. Councilors indicated they would hold a work session in the interim to dig into the issues and possibly consult with experts. Many residents requested the next meeting be held in a larger venue to accommodate the likely size of the crowd.
The Wohali proposal calls for 700 units — 570 residences and 130 nightly rentals, like hotel rooms — centered around 27 holes of golf, a lodge, a spa, a village plaza, miles of trails, a splash pad and a small commercial zone.
More than 30 people spoke at the hearing, mostly Coalville residents and nearly all in opposition to the development. On roads into town, there were hand-painted signs advertising the public hearing and banners urging opposition.
Mayor Trever Johnson read a half-dozen letters into the record, all of which supported the development. A handful of speakers supported it, as well. The mayor commented that he hadn’t received any communication against the proposal and noted that people may be hesitant to stand up and comment publicly in support of the development for fear of being bullied by their neighbors.
Supporters spoke of the importance of property rights and the benefits the development would bring like jobs for contractors and increased tax revenue from second homes. The tax rate on second homes is nearly double that of primary residences.
The developers spoke of $2.7 million in annual tax benefits to key beneficiaries like the school and fire districts when the first phase is built out in five to six years; the jobs that would be created at the golf course, hotel and spa; the potential to drive increased business traffic to the city’s Main Street and the publicly accessible amenities.
Opponents highlighted issues like potentially overtaxing the current water system and jeopardizing the spring that provides the city’s water, which is near the proposed site; wildlife protection; the potential of home values in town increasing to the point of unattainability; and concerns about the due diligence performed by the city and the data it has been using to guide decisions about the development.
Many also commented on the potential culture clash between second-home owners and Coalville residents, many of whom have been in town for generations.
Kelly Ovard, one of the first speakers, said the development would change the city forever.
“We do not need Promontory, we do not need Victory Ranch, we do not need Glenwild in Coalville. We don’t need it and most of us don’t want it,” he said, referring to other second-home developments in the region. “I do not want rich people coming in here and dictating to us how we’re going to live our lives.”
He added that he has worked in property management in Park City and said most of the people who live in second homes are not the kind of people he wants to associate with.
The notion that residents don’t want Coalville to turn into another Park City was a common sentiment. Many said they cherished the rural lifestyle, with some saying they moved to town because of it.
Wohali would spread across 1,500 acres west of Interstate 80 that were annexed into the city in 2018 after a contentious public hearing. Proponents of the annexation have said it allowed the city more control over the development and the ability to reap tax benefits.
Johnson, the mayor, said Monday he had no doubt the development would have been built through the Summit County approval process had the land not been annexed into Coalville.
That sentiment, that growth was coming one way or another, was present in nearly every comment at Monday’s hearing.
The land is currently zoned for one residence in every 20 acres, which would allow for 76 homes, but not the sort of development eyed by Wohali. The City Council was asked to weigh the project’s zoning, the master planned development process and the preliminary plan at Monday’s meeting.
One speaker advised the City Council to wait to rezone the property and said that zoning designation change is what gives the city its leverage.
The first phase of the development would include 102 homes, a golf course and 5 miles of trails. Those amenities, including trails, would be publicly accessible.
The plan for the development’s source of water was a major and repeated source of skepticism among opponents. The current proposal is for the city to convert 190 acre-feet of its reserve water rights into wet water and to sell it to Wohali as a customer of the Coalville Secondary Irrigation Company. That water would be used to irrigate the golf course.
The first phase of homes would get its culinary water from the municipal water system.
Under the proposal, Wohali would pay for a diversion structure to take the water out of the Weber River, two storage tanks, and the water fees going forward.
The city has been paying fees to reserve 300 acre-feet of water from Weber Basin Water Conservancy, and in recent years converted 110 acre-feet into secondary and culinary water, city engineer Shane McFarland told the council.
Nachele Sargent, the city recorder, said the city pays $36,000 per year for the 110 acre-feet, and $9,700 per year to reserve the other 190 acre-feet.
An independent water study found the golf course would use 172 acre-feet of water annually, but more than that the first year to get the sod established.
A few residents questioned the wisdom of using the city’s reserves in this way. Others expressed doubt about how much water the golf course would actually use and if the 190 acre-feet would be sufficient. Councilors indicated they might take up the issue with an outside water expert.
The development would hook up to the city’s culinary water for the first 102 homes and would thereafter be responsible for bringing in water to the system, likely through wells.
The proposal to drill a well to access an aquifer underneath the aquifer that supplies Icy Spring, Coalville’s water source, was met with some resistance from residents, who said that it might imperil, pollute or diminish the supply. The developers countered that the water study was done by an independent hydrogeologist and that state law prohibits the development from in any way diminishing service to existing residents.
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