In split vote, Coalville approves Wohali development amid community outcry
The Coalville City Council voted to approve the controversial Wohali second-home development Monday night despite hours of community input against the proposal spanning multiple meetings in recent weeks.
The vote was split 3-1, with Rodney Robbins the lone dissenting vote. Adrianne Anson, Arlin Judd and Cody Blonquist voted for it; Tyler Rowser was absent because of a medical procedure.
Robbins and Anson said the process felt rushed and indicated they would be better served if they had more time to deliberate. But it was the last scheduled City Council meeting of the year, and the last in Judd’s and Anson’s terms. Blonquist said the two new incoming city councilors, Philip B. Geary and Don C. Winters, had “boasted” they would vote against the development, meaning a delay into the new year would kill the project.
“Everyone who comes up here with a property concern deserves a fair shake,” Blonquist said. “That’s a predetermined outcome — that’s not a fair shake.”
Blonquist had voted against the proposal to annex the land Wohali would be built on into the city last year, but indicated it was his responsibility to represent the interests of all of Coalville’s taxpayers, including the newly annexed land’s owners.
His was the last and deciding vote.
The council approved the requested zoning change and master plan development preliminary plat, but the approval is contingent on a development agreement that has yet to be negotiated. That agreement needs to be in place before the project receives final approval and construction can begin, Coalville City Attorney Sheldon Smith said.
Development agreements typically reach levels of granularity surpassing Monday’s approval, focusing on specifics about utilities, roads, water and other considerations.
The council’s vote indicated support for the developer’s overall vision of a dense central village core surrounded by more sprawling, larger properties at the perimeter and the proposed 570 residential units and 130 nightly rentals on the 1,525-acre project site. The plan calls for 27 holes of golf, a lodge, a spa, a village plaza, miles of trails, a splash pad and a small commercial zone.
Community members on Monday spoke for more than three hours in a meeting that lasted more than five; it was a continuation of a November public hearing that lasted nearly as long. About 70 people commented in a city of roughly 1,500 people.
A group called Coalville For Responsible Growth had advocated that residents who oppose the development wear red to the meeting as part of the message to slow the process down or, “Woah-hali.” A significant portion of the audience sported the color, as did the majority of the speakers. Attendees were greeted at the door by people offering stickers from the opposition group.
The loudest applause of the night went to former Park City Mayor Dana Williams, who cautioned the council about the effects development has had on Park City and the potential pitfalls of approving Wohali.
He cited a few examples of developers failing to follow through with the terms of deals and the community benefits they had initially promised. In those cases, Williams said, Park City decided to drop legal cases because it didn’t have the money to fight the developers’ legal teams.
“If we didn’t have the money there … what’s going to happen when a New York development firm comes here?” he said.
Coalville Mayor Trever Johnson ran the meeting and asked each of the councilors to explain their positions.
Judd said he supported the location of the project as probably the best place to put new growth, largely hidden from sight. He said the way of life that many residents claim is threatened by the development is largely gone already.
“You used to be able to go to the grocery store and the post office, and you had to do those things in town and we interacted with each other,” he said. “We don’t do that anymore.”
He added that the only way a farmer can access the value in their land is to sell and subdivide, and that people should be allowed to do that.
He also lauded the open space included in Wohali’s proposal and said the council had to rely on the Coalville Planning Commission’s work and positive recommendation.
Blonquist said the decision was a very difficult one.
“I think about it, I lose sleep about it, I stress about it,” he said. “It’s a job I wish I hadn’t taken and here I am.”
He spoke of the amount of work the Planning Commission put in, the seriousness with which he took the decision and the importance of respecting the landowner’s property rights.
He said he would support gathering more information, like a financial impact study and another independent water study, but that he wouldn’t support delaying the vote until the new year when, he claimed, it would be denied by the incoming city councilors.
Three people ran for the three open seats on the council, including Rowser, who ran for reelection. Without contested races, Coalville canceled its election.
Anson touted the potential economic benefits of the development and said the government shouldn’t be in the position of solving social problems — like the potential issue of adding hundreds of second-home owners to the rural East Side community.
Robbins said he supports property rights as well, but that the council has an obligation to listen to the members of the public who have spoken against the development.
“We do get our power from the consent of the governed,” he said. “We’ve got to represent the people first and the property second.”
He added that questions he has about the project had not been answered, including about water and access routes.
Lynn Wood, who organizes the opposition group Coalville for Responsible Growth, said she thought the public input would make more of a difference.
“It’s a sad day,” she said.
Jim Boyden, a member of the development team whose family owns the land, said he was grateful for the opportunity and for the work the city officials put in.
“Our commitment is to continue to work with the community,” he said.
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It was an important decision since the rest of the talks will be heavily influenced by the processing option selected by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.