Latest Colby School proposal denied by County Council
The Summit County Council recently denied an application to use the site of the former Colby School as a bed-and-breakfast, the latest entry in a yearslong dispute surrounding efforts to restore the Victorian-style mansion just east of S.R. 224 to a commercial use after years of dormancy.
Councilors Kim Carson, Glenn Wright and Doug Clyde, the council’s chair, voted against the applicants’ appeal, while Chris Robinson supported the proposal and Roger Armstrong was absent.
The applicants, Hoffvest LLC, may appeal the decision to district court. The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission denied an application for a conditional use permit in June, leading the applicants to appeal to the County Council.
Neighbors have consistently and strongly opposed commercial uses for the property, which includes the Victorian-style home and outbuildings. It sits just east of S.R. 224 south of the entrance to Canyons Village and is adjacent to several homes and three residential subdivisions.
Before it operated as the Colby School, the name by which it is still widely referred, the building began as the Snowed Inn. The school ceased operations there in 2008.
In 2014, Hoffvest LLC purchased the property and applied the next year for a 55-room hotel and event center, which neighbors vigorously opposed.
The project has been significantly whittled down to the current eight-room bed-and-breakfast with one room for a caretaker, the largest bed-and-breakfast allowed by the code.
The legal issue hinged on the definition of “owner-occupied,” which is not expressly defined in the Summit County Code or the Snyderville Basin Development Code.
Eschewing debates about what percentage of ownership the occupant should have or what sort of ownership arrangement would work, Wright chose a colorful descriptor for his opinion.
“I will go back to an observation from an old Supreme Court justice when they were talking about pornography: I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it,” he said. “I will use that definition for myself as defining a bed-and-breakfast. The owner has to physically be there.”
The applicants’ attorney, Robert McConnell, argued that the county’s code defines both owner and occupant and that since the definition of a person includes corporations, Hoffvest LLC should be able to occupy the building.
In earlier Planning Commission meetings, commissioners had joked about ringing the doorbell and a stack of papers opening the door.
McConnell said the applicants have suggested the employee hired to manage the facility be given an ownership stake of 1% to 10% in the property, thus making that person an owner-occupant. The Planning Commission, and now the County Council, found that arrangement insufficient.
The Snyderville Basin Development Code limits a bed-and-breakfast inn to “an owner occupied residence in which up to eight (8) rooms are rented for overnight lodging to travelers.” Carson reiterated the rationale for that definition at Wednesday’s meeting.
“The idea behind that was that the people (who live in the neighborhood) have a stake in what happens in their neighborhood, in their community, and they’re going to be more apt to regulate who stays at their bed-and-breakfast,” Carson said.
Clyde said allowing the sort of arrangement the applicant suggested would make the “owner-occupant” requirement in the code meaningless, and Robinson asked the applicant what the difference would be between a bed-and-breakfast and a hotel.
Jami Brackin, a Summit County deputy civil attorney, cautioned planning commissioners against deciding what percentage of ownership would satisfy the owner-occupant requirement, and reiterated her warning to county councilors.
“(The applicant) will appeal that to the district court, because then the council will be imposing a condition not in our development code, and then they would challenge that and probably win,” Brackin told the council. “The question is not how much of an ownership does the employee need, the question is ‘Is it an owner-occupied residence?’”
Clyde said the employee-employer relationship at the heart of the arrangement invalidated it.
“What if your ownership is contingent upon the arbitrary ability of (the employers) to … terminate your employment? That really doesn’t sound like ownership. That sounds like a scam, frankly,” he said.
The property has had an interesting relationship with its neighbors, who had complained about a lack of responsiveness from previous owners in dealing with impacts like noise, light and parking.
The applicants have said the bed-and-breakfast would likely be used to host events like weddings, as others are, and neighbors had requested capping the number of events there.
One of the outbuildings has been used as a pilates studio and, in 2017, the main building was used as an unapproved hostel that housed around 50 seasonal employees before it was shut down by the county.
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