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More Dogs on Main Street

Tom Clyde, Record columnist

Our story this week begins in Bryce Canyon National Park, or at least near there. It seems that the owners of the motel and resort called Ruby’s Inn, the gateway to Bryce Canyon, have been at odds with the Garfield County Commission for many years. The owners of Ruby’s Inn pointed out that their business provides something like 90 percent of the sales-tax revenue for the county, but the county didn’t spend a dime in their neighborhood. Something about taxation without representation. Enter the Utah Legislature, who came to the rescue of the resort owner. No unique private grievance is too small for our legislature to fix by enacting laws of statewide application.

The legislature made it possible to incorporate a town with only 100 people in it, as long as the majority of the property owners went along with it. As a town, the folks at Ruby’s Inn could keep the sales-tax money that previously went to the county, and spend it locally. As a town, they could eliminate annoying county regulations, and enact their own zoning. Garfield County officials are outraged, but too late.

Of course, once a statute like that is enacted, other people can take advantage of it. So while Ruby’s Inn was the first micro-town created, it surely won’t be the last. Of local interest is the proposed town of Aspen, located just up the canyon from Heber City. Developer Dean Sellers took one look at the Wasatch County development code (which literally is measured in feet rather than pages) and concluded that he was never going to get his 8,000-acre project approved. The property is sort of in the hinterlands, zoned one unit to 160 acres, and subject to all kinds of unreasonable things like planning commission approval.

Anybody who has driven around Jordanelle Reservoir can clearly see that Wasatch County is hostile to development. They won’t approve just anything; they approve absolutely everything as long as it requires a lot of excavation. Apparently the Aspen project is not able to meet the tough standards imposed. The developer decided the only way to solve the problem was to incorporate his own town – Aspen, Utah. The approval process would be expedited by the fact that the developer would get to appoint the town officials. Though it’s mostly grazing land now, the plan is to build something equivalent to Deer Valley, complete with a world-class ski resort (that tops out at a less-than-world-class 9,000 feet). The ski resort would be known as Aspen just long enough for Colorado lawyers to file a lawsuit.

The skullduggery is interesting to watch. To get his 100 residents, the proposed town boundaries included neighbors living on land the developer doesn’t own. Some of the residents aren’t sure they want to live in Aspen (it’s too hard to park there, and rents are terrible), so they seceded and asked to be annexed to the nearby town of Daniel. It’s not clear how it will all shake out.

One might assume that the legislature would revisit this issue, where the potential for real abuse is so obvious. Don’t count on it. But if you are interested in setting up your own town, now’s your best chance. You and a bunch of your neighbors on the cul-de-sac can become your own town, the Town of Angus Court. Local government has a lot of power. It’s not just planning and zoning, though being able to adopt your own zoning is a surefire way of avoiding burdensome county regulations. Building code too tough? Not in a town where the developer is the government. Your 100-person town can adopt whatever code it wants, or none at all. Got an annoying neighbor? Your cul-de-sac town could condemn his lot for a town park.

There is no area requirement as long as you have 100 residents. High-rise condos on a quarter-acre lot could become a town. Condominium associations and HOAs, perhaps the most dangerous people among us not actually carrying explosives, are constantly fussing about – and escalating – the petty frictions that exist between neighbors. Covenants cover some of the big stuff, and sometimes get into ridiculous detail. But that doesn’t mean that condo associations aren’t constantly embroiled in quarrels among neighbors over such weighty matters as the number of wind chimes permitted on any one balcony, neighbors’ choice of drapery color, or how ugly a car has to be before it is inimical to the commonweal and must be towed away.

They fuss at enforcement with the clumsy tools of trying to amend by-laws, imposing fines that are usually uncollectible, suspending pool privileges, expensive litigation, and the dreaded annual meeting. But imagine giving the board of trustees the power of government. Instead of cajoling owners about storing bicycles or snow tires on the balcony, the Town of Del Boca Vista Phase III could have its own cops. The offenders could be tasered in the common area and hauled off to jail.

We have a couple of patches of suburban bliss around here where the HOAs already hire a guy to drive around and rat out any possible violations of the CC&Rs. But his enforcement is limited. If the HOA became a town, they could send him out there to look for paint colors that deviate from the approved color palette with real authority. Instead of getting a nasty letter from the Architectural Committee because you have a boat parked in the side yard (which really should be a hanging offense), the town could enact an ordinance that would have the offender hauled off to jail for 30 days, and get a search warrant to make sure there isn’t a clothesline in the backyard.

If anybody actually lived there, our gated ghost communities could become gated ghost towns, setting their own property tax rates, adopting zoning, and exercising the power to condemn other property. An airport at Promontory? No problem. They could finance it with their own municipal bonds. The possibilities are endless. But the legislature may actually undo their knitting on this one, so if you want to turn your cul-de-sac into a town, act now. Operators are standing by.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.


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