Colby School bed-and-breakfast proposal heads to court |

Colby School bed-and-breakfast proposal heads to court

The former Colby School property on S.R. 224.
Park Record file photo

One question may determine the future of a Victorian-style mansion sitting just off S.R. 224: What, exactly, does it mean for a property to be owner-occupied?

That’s a question that lawyers have spent the last year arguing in relation to the property known as the Colby School, and one that will soon be taken up by 3rd District Court Judge Teresa Welch.

The owner of the property, Hoffvest LLC, last month sued to appeal the Summit County Council’s rejection of the LLC’s application to use the property as a bed-and-breakfast.

Hoffvest is seeking a permit to use the mansion as an eight-room bed-and-breakfast with one room for a caretaker, a use that is allowed in the land’s current zoning — as long as the building is owner-occupied.

Hoffvest argues in the filing that the county’s rejection is invalid because the proposal meets the county’s definitions of “owner-occupied.” It further argues that council’s rejection is capricious because it previously allowed a similar ownership arrangement.

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson declined to comment. The county is expected to file a response in the coming days.

Hoffvest LLC is seeking to overturn the council’s ruling and to be awarded attorney’s fees, according to the filing.

The property began life as the Snowed Inn and was then used as the Colby School, which ceased operations in 2008.

Hoffvest LLC purchased it in 2014 and has been trying unsuccessfully to use it as a business nearly ever since, applying in 2015 for a 55-room hotel and event center.

Neighbors have consistently opposed commercial uses for the property, citing its lack of compatibility with adjacent single-family home neighborhoods and potential issues of light and noise, especially if it is used to host events, which the owners have indicated it might be.

A attorney for the county has indicated that neighbors often had issues with previous owners when the property was used as a business.

The property lies south of the entrance to Canyons Village on the opposite side of S.R. 224 and is adjacent to three residential subdivisions. It includes the Victorian-style mansion and a handful of outbuildings, one of which has been used as a pilates studio.

Hoffvest’s applications have been whittled down significantly over the years to the present proposal that has been brought to 3rd District Court.

Both the County Council and the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission denied Hoffvest’s application for a conditional use permit, stating that the proposal didn’t meet the county’s definition of “owner-occupied.” Neither entity elected to define the term.

The county’s codes do not expressly define “owner-occupied,” though they make clear that an LLC can own property.

So if a legal entity like an LLC can own a house, the question is whether an LLC can also occupy it. Stacks of papers can’t flip pancakes or change smoke detectors or, really, live. So what characteristics does an owner need to be able to occupy a residence?

In its recent dealings with county officials, the LLC indicated it would bestow an ownership stake in the property to the person who would live there as its caretaker.

County officials indicated that arrangement was closer to an employer-employee relationship rather than having an owner physically occupy the residence.

Deliberations at public meetings repeatedly veered toward the applicant’s attorney asking the county to define owner-occupied or what ownership percentage the county would require the occupant to have to satisfy that requirement. Summit County civil attorney Jami Brackin warned the officials against providing those definitions, indicating the applicant could sue — and probably win — if the county imposed a requirement not found in its code. Instead, she said, the decision was about whether or not the proposal met the owner-occupied requirement.

The Snyderville Basin Development Code allows for bed-and-breakfasts in the rural residential zone that governs the site.

It defines a bed-and-breakfast inn as “an owner occupied residence in which up to eight (8) rooms are rented for overnight lodging to travelers.”

The reasoning behind that restriction, officials have said, is that an on-site owner would be part of the community and more responsive to neighbors’ concerns.

The property has not been without previous controversy. In 2017, the mansion was used as an unapproved hostel that housed around 50 seasonal employees before it was shut down by the county.

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