Golf-course negotiations could be rough
May 6, 2006
Getting a group of roughly 20 landowners at The Canyons resort to agree about how a golf course should be financed has been like herding cats, an attorney told the Summit County Commission on Wednesday.
For several years, taxpayers have picked up the tab as Salt Lake-based attorney David Gee has met with commissioners behind closed doors to help the county negotiate deals between property owners at the resort.
Meanwhile, residents have stood by, as Summit County has been pulled further into the dispute because of bickering by landowners and tough economic times for The Canyons’ parent company, American Skiing Company.
On Jan. 11, however, stakeholders at The Canyons said they were ready to break ground on an 18-hole golf course this spring.
"We felt we had a near miraculous situation, where we brought all the landowners together," Summit County Planning Director Michael Barille said. "Since then, we’ve learned that there is a little glitch in that miracle."
In the late 1990s, landowners at The Canyons each agreed to contribute easements to allow for construction of the course near S.R. 224. The development agreement required the course be completed several years ago.
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In exchange for the concessions, property owners were allowed bigger development at the resort, said David Thomas, the Summit County Attorney’s Office’s chief civil litigator.
The owners of Wolf Mountain, however, have refused to pay, he added.
"Unless and until we get the land and the easements required for the roads, the utilities, the golf course and the trails, this project can’t move forward," said Joanne Nadalin, director of the Resort Village Management Association, an umbrella organization comprised of landowners at The Canyons. "We had all the parties sign all the documents except Wolf Mountain."
The Summit County Commission has warned the owners of Wolf Mountain that they may be in default of the contract. The default notice from the county this week triggered a 60-day period for the property owners to comply with the terms of the development agreement or possibly be taken to court, County Commissioner Bob Richer said.
Wolf Mountain owner Kenny Griswold called the default notice "more of a technicality than anything."
He insists Wolf Mountain provided the easements for the golf course when the development agreement was negotiated several years ago.
"We work diligently with the county," Griswold said during a telephone interview Friday. "I’m certainly one of the biggest cheerleaders of the golf course."
Griswold is hopeful he’ll settle the dispute with the county and construction of the course will be on track within two months.
"We’ve been trying to hold hands, all of us," Griswold said. "Since we stand as the largest landowners there, we’re excited."
The Wolf Mountain group owns much of the ski terrain and developable land at the resort, Gee said, adding that along with land for the course, the developers agreed to provide easements for trails, roads and utilities.
"I fully expect we’ll continue to negotiate and hopefully we can arrive at a conclusion of this within a 60-day period," Gee told the County Commission this week. "Within 60 days they need to convey their interest in the land for the golf course, they need to convey the open space and they need to grant these utility, trail and roadway easements."
To enforce the agreement, however, county officials are prepared to sue Wolf Mountain, Gee said, adding, "at this time, they are in violation."
"While this is a golf course, it is also open space," the attorney said. "It’s critical to the county that the developers dedicate and grant the open space that they said they would."
According to the findings of the County Commission, "[many] of the objections of Wolf Mountain involve engineering and topography issues regarding the precise boundaries of the golf course and open space, and the exact location of easements."
"A substantial problem in the negotiations is that Wolf Mountain has not and will not respond with specific suggestions regarding alternative boundaries and locations," the findings state.
Resort officials say the delay will increase the costs of the estimated $13 million golf course.
"If we aren’t able to keep [the landowners] all together & I would expect that there would be a significant delay in getting the golf course under construction," Nadalin said.