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Lawsuits prompt tweaks to Summit County development code

Colby School, ridgeline barn cases could drive changes

Recent lawsuits, including one from the owners of the former Colby School, have prompted Summit County officials to change the laws governing how land can be used in the Snyderville Basin.
Park Record file photo

After two recent lawsuits, including a successful effort by the owners of the former Colby School and a pending bid to build a huge barn on a ridgeline, Summit County officials are in the process of changing the laws that govern how land is used in the Snyderville Basin.

In both instances, the landowners appealed to 3rd District Court after the Summit County Council denied their bids to use their land differently than what officials said was allowed.

The owners of the former Colby School site sued successfully for a permit to operate a bed-and-breakfast. A Trailside homeowner is seeking a special exception to the land-use laws to be able to move enough dirt to build a 9,300-square-foot barn on a ridgeline overlooking Trailside Park.



Last week, the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission took up two potential amendments to the Snyderville Basin Development Code, each directly related to those cases.

The code changes are not retroactive and would not affect the cases in question, but would shape how future proposals are evaluated.



One proposed change amends the code’s definition of bed-and-breakfast inn. The other removes the ability to appeal a special exception decision to district court.

The Planning Commission forwarded a positive recommendation for the two changes to the County Council, which has the power to amend the code after conducting a public hearing.

Thomas Cooke, chair of the Planning Commission, indicated the motivation behind the changes was clear.

“This is ‘clean up in Aisle Code,’” Cooke said. “We all know why this is being done.”

The commissioners recommended the change to the special exception process without much debate, but discussed the bed-and-breakfast definition at length.

Residents can apply for a special exception to the development code to do something that is not ordinarily allowed, like exceeding the height limit for buildings.

The County Council has the authority to grant such an exception, which it declined to do for the Trailside homeowner, a decision the homeowner is appealing to district court. Under the recommended change, that would no longer be possible.

The Planning Commission recommended removing the right of appeal so the council’s decision is final.

For the bed-and-breakfast definition, commissioners recommended removing the language upon which the Colby School application was argued.

The case hinged on what it means for a structure to be owner-occupied, which is not defined in the county’s code. The Colby School owners wanted to hire someone to live there and run the bed-and-breakfast. Commissioners said that arrangement did not satisfy the code requirements. They argued that an employee of an ownership corporation living on site is not the same as someone who is renting out rooms in their home to travelers.

The County Council upheld the commission’s decision, but a judge overturned the denial in April and ordered the county to grant the permit, ruling that the arrangement the owners suggested would indeed make it an owner-occupied residence.

The new definition commissioners recommended says a bed-and-breakfast inn is “a building or structure used as a primary residence by the owner,” among other provisions.

Initially, staffers recommended that limited liability corporation and other ownership arrangements not be allowed to own bed-and-breakfasts.

Commissioner John Kucera worried that might prevent people from opening such a business if they couldn’t do so with the protection of placing it in a trust or limited liability corporation. Both of those ownership structures, officials indicated, provide benefits for the owner ranging from less onerous taxes to protection from lawsuits.

“Are we basically saying this probably isn’t going to happen at all anymore? Is that essentially what we’re doing?” Kucera said of people operating bed-and-breakfasts. “… It seems the bar would be so high. I can’t imagine someone would own any kind of business without some sort of entity structure for tax, for planning for liability, just for all of it.”

Commissioners retooled the definition to allow limited liability corporations to own a bed-and-breakfast as long as the owners who live on site are the exclusive members.

The intent of the code change is that owners of a bed-and-breakfast must own the building and use it as their primary residence, officials said.


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