Utah's top court on Tuesday said Beaver County government must schedule a countywide vote before allowing a high-priced resort planned there to proceed.
The Utah Supreme Court ruling said the county and lower court improperly denied a referendum petition in 2007. Residents gathered enough signatures to require a public vote on a land-use agreement with the developers of the planned $3.5 billion Mount Holly Club resort, the court said.
The ruling says the referendum may be held during the next general election. Beaver County Clerk Paul Barton said that is scheduled for November.
"We're hoping Mount Holly will be bankrupt and gone long before the referendum appears," said Carol McCulley, one of the resort's chief opponents.
Mount Holly Club, planned for the Tushar Mountains 12 miles east of Beaver, has shown signs of financial troubles for months. Liens have been filed against some parcels.
Beaver County Attorney Von Christiansen said the development owes about $400,000 to a special services district. Dow Jones Co. sued Mount Holly Club for what it said was unpaid advertising bills, but that lawsuit recently was dismissed.
There has been almost no construction at the resort in two years. Representatives for the resort did not return calls Tuesday.
A group of county residents has opposed the development, saying it would siphon too much water from the Beaver River and threaten access to public lands and a lake. Others point out that previous owners of what used to be called Elk Meadows Ski Resort have gone broke and if Mount Holly Club fails, the county could be left with a debt.
The Beaver County commission approved a development agreement with the club in April 2007 that discussed everything from how many new homes would be built to how the sewers would be upgraded.
When residents petitioned for a referendum, the county denied it, and residents sued, only to have a district court judge rule against them.
But the Supreme Court said the lower court judge relied on the wrong standards and arguments.
McCulley said she and other Mount Holly Club opponents favor having a modest-sized resort that is open to the public.
"I don't think we've scared any reasonable people away," McCulley said.