Wohali approval caps divisive process | ParkRecord.com

Wohali approval caps divisive process

Coalville’s identity was scrutinized, opponents call the smaller project a win

A view looking west toward the Wohali project site with Coalville in the foreground. The City Council late last month approved plans for 125 homes and 303 nightly rentals in the proposed golf course community west of the city. Deliberations prompted questions about the city’s identity.
Courtesy of Lynn Wood

The effects of the Coalville City Council’s recent approval of the Wohali second-home community on the city’s west side will likely reverberate for decades to come, with the 125 homes, golf course and lodge the as-yet unbuilt results of a process that prompted questions of the city’s identity and its future.

The unanimous vote late last month capped an official process that began in 2017 and spurred contentious public meetings and divided many residents into those who supported the project and who did not.

When the City Council annexed the land into its borders, it effectively doubled the city’s size.

Residents thoroughly vetted the multiple applications and questioned the project’s size, its source of water and the city’s staff members who processed the application.

Opponents formed a development watchdog group and created newsletters to recap public meetings, and two prominent critics are now running for mayor and a seat on the City Council.

Opponents’ efforts resulted in a significantly scaled back project than the one that developers originally submitted and the council approved last December, with 125 homes instead of 570.

The reduced size is a win for opponents, though some have appeared dissatisfied with a second-home community no matter the size.

Mayor Trever Johnson and developer Jim Boyden, who has represented Wohali Partners, however, both lamented the project’s smaller size, though Boyden said he was excited that the project was approved. The mayor and developer both indicated the smaller project reduces the benefits in water infrastructure and tax revenue that the larger project would have delivered to the city. The fewer homes also likely represent a smaller profit for the developers.

Boyden said it was good to know the project was moving forward.

“It kind of put — well, there’s no bow on anything. The work continues,” he said. “With the unanimous approval of the development agreement, a lot of the uncertainty is put to rest.”

To Lynn Wood, a prominent opponent who recently announced her bid for mayor, the public process led to a better project for the city and its residents.

“570 homes versus 125 homes fitting into our community, it’s a much better fit,” she said. “… I think right now we’re at the best place we could’ve been.”

Late last year, the City Council approved Wohali Partners’ initial application for 570 homes and 130 nightly rentals, but the developers withdrew it after opponents filed to challenge the approval via referendum. The developers earlier this year submitted an application that asked for the number of homes that are allowed under the city’s code, which grants the 125 units for the 1,664 acres in the project site when certain incentives are included.

The City Council unanimously approved the development agreement and first phase final subdivision plat for that application on May 25.

The developers claimed throughout the second approval process that the city’s review of the project was merely administrative, and that elected officials could not pare down its size and were only being asked whether it conformed to the city’s code. Still, deliberations were contentious and comments at times turned personal.

Opponents focused on water and the number of nightly rental units in recent deliberations.

The city’s code does not include a provision governing the developer’s application for nightly rental units, of which there are 303 spread between stand-alone cabins and a lodge. The developer and city staff claimed the nightly rentals were supporting the allowed golf course, and the number was not changed.

The golf course is an allowed use on the land, and when opponents succeeded in reducing the number of homes in the plan, the developers claimed they had to make the project a gated community to drive up the value of the homes to make the project financially viable. The amenities the developers offered — public access to trails and the golf course, among others — were taken off the table.

But Johnson said the bigger loss from the city’s point of view was the developer revoking its offer to seek and secure new water sources, with initial plans calling for as many as five new wells. That water would have tied into the city’s system and could have provided water for the entire city.

Instead, the city is required to provide culinary water for the development from what is its main source, Icy Spring.

The city is still receiving a water-related benefit from the approved project, Johnson said, with the developers building a diversion system to take water from the Weber River to use for secondary water in the project, including to irrigate the golf course.

The developer and city officials said that system would be dedicated to the city and that the city could take back its water rights one year after notifying the developers in writing of its intention to do so.

In exchange, the developers are using the city’s reserve water rights, an agreement that drew skepticism from opponents. The developers are also taking over the costs of reserving those water rights, which was an annual bill of around $100,000 to the city.

The project’s smaller size also means the city will not receive tax revenue from the 400 homes that won’t be built. To opponents, some of whom seemed to oppose the very idea of the project, any unbuilt homes could be seen as a win.

To the developers, it means lost revenue, and to the mayor, it means a lost opportunity for the city to collect second-home tax revenue, which he said contributes more than it costs in impacts to roads, schools and other infrastructure.

The developers also indicated that the bulk of the unapproved density would not have been visible from the city.

“It would’ve been out of sight, out of mind. Even from the central core of the project, there’s another mountain ridge that separates it,” Boyden said. “Most of that density that has been lost would’ve been located in another canyon. We think it’s unfortunate, just because it was a lot of tax revenue that could’ve come to Coalville City that they need, that they could’ve benefited from.”

Residents at public meetings decried what they saw as their rural town turning into another resort destination like Park City. For them, it seemed like the idea of a golf-course-centric second-home community did not fit with their conception of Coalville or small-town values.

Some public comments early in the approval process indicated residents didn’t like the type of people associated with those homes.

Johnson said when he talks to older residents about the small-town feel they wanted to protect, the image they recall is of a more bustling Main Street than is seen today.

“As I hear them talk about the ‘good old days,’ there were four or five gas stations, three car dealerships, a movie theater, a few grocery stores, quite a bit more commerce. And it’s always spoken of in fondness. It was a time they relished,” he said. “What does it take to get back to that? It takes people and growth, and that growth is happening.”

Johnson managed the City Council meetings throughout the process, and could be heard calling for civility when discussions grew heated.

Johnson decided not to seek another mayoral term, which would’ve been his third.

“It’s been an interesting four years,” he said.

He often allowed more latitude for speakers to have a back-and-forth with officials than is common at other meetings of the same kind, explaining that his hope was that issues could be resolved “right there in the moment.”

He said his priority throughout the process was to allow people to feel heard — though he did restrict public comment at times — and to ensure the city would not be held liable financially or legally.

That entailed allowing the developer to exercise the rights that they were owed under city code while attempting to ensure that the legal document governing the development protected the city.

He indicated he was satisfied that had occurred.

“Whether you golf or not, and I don’t golf, I do agree with their right to do what they want within land-use code and ordinances,” he said. “Ultimately we were right. Two different city councils voted for this thing.”

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