Grazing and water rights are sticking points as Coalville Planning Commission delays decision on massive new development
The Coalville City Hall meeting room was full Monday night for a public hearing about the proposed Wohali development, with the town’s Planning Commission ultimately delaying a decision on the development’s preliminary plan until questions could be answered about legacy property rights and fencing.
The most extensive back-and-forth between commissioners and city staff, though, centered around how the developer plans to get water to the 700-unit second-home community and golf course planned for the city’s west side.
Commissioners were told the development would use the municipal water system for the first phase of the project and purchase water rights from the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District to irrigate the golf course. Those water rights have been held in reserve by the city.
That contrasts with a plan Wohali presented in July, which called for the developer to drill a well for the first phase. The current plan also calls for culinary water to be used for the development’s landscaping.
Planning commissioners scheduled a special meeting Nov. 4 to address the concerns and potentially forward a recommendation to the City Council. That meeting will not feature a public hearing, though the City Council will hold a public hearing before voting on the plan.
The sticking point that appeared to convince commissioners to delay a decision related to legacy property rights that allow farmers to herd cattle up through the proposed site to grazing areas uphill.
The developer’s representative, consultant Eric Langvardt, told the Commission that the right-of-way for an access road had been preserved and the plan was to move the road and improve it. He described paving the road and a potential bike lane as a community benefit. But a rancher in the audience described how he moves cattle up the current right-of-way, which he said would take the animals right through the flower gardens of the proposed million-dollar second homes.
Commissioners also wanted answers about responsibilities for fencing off the property to protect it from the grazing animals.
The city’s project manager, Don Sargent, told commissioners he and staffers would be able to answer questions about those and other issues in time for the November meeting.
In July, commissioners were told the project’s first, 102-home phase would be served by a new water well, with second and third wells contemplated once it reached full build-out. Monday, commissioners heard the developers planned to purchase excess capacity in the city’s water system for the first phase. The rest of the development would be served by future wells. The developers would pay for both the water and the infrastructure to connect to it.
To irrigate the golf course, Wohali plans to create a diversion system from the Weber River and an on-site storage facility. The city has around 300 acre-feet on reserve with the Weber Basin Water Conservancy, Mayor Trever Johnson told the Commission. The plan is to sell 190 acre-feet of that reserve to the developers to use for the golf course. An acre-foot is equal to more than 325,000 gallons of water.
The mayor explained that the 110 acre-feet kept in reserve is “way beyond” what is thought necessary to fill the city’s needs for the next 20 years.
Planning Commission Chair Linda Vernon said city officials once had similar confidence in the capabilities of the sewer system, but its life has is looking to be shorter than anticipated.
Johnson added the city pays a lower reservation rate than if those rights were converted to water, and that the developers would pay in a higher tier. Under the proposed agreement, Wohali would pay to construct the water-diversion infrastructure, which would be on the banks of the river within city limits, according to city documents.
Commissioner Tonja Hanson asked the developers whether it was wise to use culinary water to landscape the second homes.
Jim Boyden, a Wohali representative, said the higher cost might dissuade owners from using excess amounts of water and that the landscaping plans aren’t water-intensive and call for minimal landscaping and a natural feel.
He added that using culinary water for landscaping would allow the developers to avoid building a dedicated secondary water system.
The concept plan for the 700-unit Wohali development on Coalville’s west side includes amenities like two golf courses, a spa, a lodge, a splash pad and seven miles of trails. Unlike other area second-home communities, the amenities would be open to the public, according to the developer. This first phase includes 102 homes, one golf course and slightly more than five miles of trails.
Four people spoke during the public hearing, with one speaking in favor of the development. That person identified himself as a local contractor and said the development would be good for business. He said he couldn’t count the number of contractors that are employed in similar developments around the county, and that workers would stop in town to buy fuel and food.
Resident Denise Smith said, for her, it all comes down to water.
“Water’s finite,” she said. “If we have a drought, who gets water first?”
She questioned whether increased human activity near the city’s water source could cause pollution and requested further studies.
A rancher who said he had issues with the development and described himself as having been concerned with water rights for decades requested the Planning Commission require the development to create a secondary water system.
The Planning Commission is expected to render a recommendation at its Nov. 4 meeting. The City Council could take up the issue as early as mid-November.
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