Opponents of Wohali have until Feb. 24 to gather signatures to put development’s approval to Coalville voters | ParkRecord.com

Opponents of Wohali have until Feb. 24 to gather signatures to put development’s approval to Coalville voters

Members of the referendum advocacy group Coalville for Responsible Growth at a recent strategy meeting. The group has until Feb. 24 to collect 240 signatures to put the Wohali development approval to voters in a special election June 30.
Courtesy of Celeste Gates

The next phase of the fight against the Wohali development is underway in Coalville, as the clock is ticking for opponents to collect 240 signatures to put the issue to voters in a special June election.

The City Council approved the second-home community in December after a series of contentious public hearings that featured hours of public input against the project.

Now, organizers of an opposition group called Coalville for Responsible Growth have until Feb. 24 to collect signatures from 35% of Coalville’s active voters to force a special election June 30 that would ask voters whether the two land-use ordinances that allowed the development to go forward should be overturned.

Lynn Wood, an organizer of the group and referendum advocate, wrote in an email to The Park Record that the group recently had a “surprisingly cordial” meeting with the developers to exchange viewpoints about the project. The meeting ended on a high note, she wrote, with all agreeing to more talks in the future.

The organizers also have an information event scheduled Jan. 20 at North Summit High School.

Mayor Trever Johnson has asked the opposition group to outline changes it would like to see made to the project so that the city could pursue those in negotiations with the developers and avoid potentially costly litigation.

“If we’re staring down the barrel of a six-figure cost exposure with a referendum — even a five-figure (cost) is a big impact for the city,” the mayor said at a December City Council meeting to a lawyer representing the referendum advocates. “If there’s something you have a vision for, that looks like a good project in your mind, what does that look like?”

The city approved density that would allow 570 residential units and 130 nightly rentals on the 1,525-acre site of the project, which is planned to center on a denser central village core surrounded by more sprawling, larger properties at the perimeter.

There would be 27 holes of golf, a lodge, a spa, a village plaza, miles of trails, a splash pad and a small commercial zone.

Opponents of the development have said that it threatens the rural town’s identity and decried what they see as the lack of effect the public’s opposition has had.

“People don’t mind being disagreed with, but they clearly mind being ignored,” referendum advocates wrote in a statement included in the referendum materials.

Wood added that she hopes that voters are able to vote in June having clear information about what the development would mean for the community.

“Ultimately the public wants to continue to have an influence on the growth that is coming our way,” she wrote. “Our hope is that the referendum can be a tool to help shape a project that better (complements) the vision of the community.”

Water and access road issues proved to be controversial during the approval process, and members of the public and a City Councilor requested an independent analysis of the development’s financial impact.

At full build-out, proponents have claimed the second-home community would yield financial benefits, including $6 million for the North Summit School District, $3 million for the city and $600,000 for the North Summit Fire District annually.

Opponents of the project have requested the land remain at the zoning designation it held when it was annexed into the city in 2018 — one residence per 20 acres of land. The 1,525 acres could yield 76 residences.

But Johnson has said the number of residences under that zoning could double if the developers used incentives to keep open space, and that each residence would also be entitled to an accessory dwelling unit.

“Do people really understand this? (If the referendum is successful) there’s still a project of some sort,” he said at the December meeting. “Under current zoning … (they’re) still able to put a golf course, a couple hundred homes.”

But in that case, officials have said, amenities would likely no longer be publicly accessible and it would threaten the plan to put a denser village core in the center with a small commercial zone.

The consultant hired by the city to shepherd the project through the approval process, Don Sargent, said if the referendum were to happen and the original zoning imposed, Wohali would become a private golf-course community like Glenwild.

“I think you’d see an absolutely gated community in that scenario — everything they can do to make it exclusive,” Sargent said in December. “There would be absolutely no public benefit that would be offered. I don’t see a developer in the world offering that.”

Wood allows that the project would bring benefits to the city, including improvements to water infrastructure. The development would be hooked into the city’s water system, and the contemplated agreement calls for it to bring in new water by drilling wells, for example. Wohali would also pay for a water diversion and storage system from the Weber River.

“The public needs to be fully aware of all the differences between the two proposals so they can vote informed,” Wood wrote. “Our efforts have been to bring the choice to the people.”

The zoning change is on hold while the referendum process plays out. If organizers fail to gather the necessary number of signatures, the change would go into effect after the Feb. 24 deadline.

The next step — referendum aside — is for the city and the developers to negotiate a development agreement that would include more specific aspects of the plan.

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