Private ski resort for wealthy ordered to halt sales and construction in Morgan County

Judge issues temporary restraining order that also curtails property sales and transfers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sloping eastward into Morgan County from just below a string of 24 mountaintops, the exclusive playground of Wasatch Peaks Ranch, pictured on Friday, April 7, 2023, is emerging. The private drive snakes up to where a development, catering to richest ‘1% of the 1%’ is approved for 750 residential units, will come with a Tom Fazio golf course, a village and numerous amenities, including 70 miles of trails for residents’ exclusive use.

Writing in his decision that “any claimed damages it incurs may be self inflicted,” a district judge ruled Friday that Wasatch Peaks Ranch must temporarily halt further land development.

Second District Judge Noel Hyde issued a temporary restraining order against the private ski area and Morgan County. The order was requested by five county residents who had won the right to put to referendum the zoning laws under which Wasatch Peaks Ranch had been developing. Those laws were approved in 2019 by the Morgan County Council, which changed most of the 12,700 acres under the ski and golf resort from “forestry” and “multiple-use” to a “resort special district.”

The residents filed for a referendum shortly after the council’s approval. In September, Judge Hyde made the decision to allow the referendum. The county and Wasatch Peaks Ranch have since filed an appeal that is expected to be heard by the state Supreme Court.

According to state law, if a zoning law change is subject to a referendum, the original zoning remains in place until citizens have a chance to vote on the change.

However, less than two weeks after the request for the referendum was approved, Wasatch Peaks Ranch developers requested approval of permits for their “plat 3A” subdivision, using the zoning approved by the county council.

In allowing the temporary restraining order, Judge Hyde wrote “no substantial damage is imposed on Morgan County by requiring compliance with the Utah Constitution and the enforcement of applicable land-use laws.”

Hyde indicated that Wasatch Peaks Ranch knew the original zoning laws were supposed to remain in place. Still, resort managers requested the county commission (which replaced the council) approve development permits under the zoning laws that are in question.

“Although the court recognizes the inconvenience of the Temporary Restraining Order to Wasatch Peaks Ranch,” Hyde wrote in his decision, “permitting ongoing potentially unlawful development of its property is subordinate to the public interest.”

For its part, Wasatch Peaks Ranch, in a memorandum filed Monday, argues that the new zoning ordinances, not the original ones, currently hold sway. They took effect, it said, in 2019 when the Morgan County clerk denied the residents’ petition for referendum. That denial triggered the lawsuit that, four years later, resulted in Judge Hyde granting the referendum.

In the filing, the resort’s lawyer, Mark Gaylord, also argues that the county residents have no case because they “failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.” They had 30 days after the council approved the first phase of development in 2021 to file an objection with the county, he wrote, but they didn’t.

Instead, Gaylord wrote in the memorandum, “Plaintiffs sat idly by and opted neither to challenge the County’s approval, nor any subsequent approvals, nor the effectiveness of the Ordinance” until after they won the right to put the laws to vote.

Wasatch Peaks Ranch has also asked that the county residents be ordered to reimburse it for the fees and costs of defending against the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

In the meantime, Wasatch Peaks Ranch must halt all construction and development on its property with the exception of protective maintenance. It also cannot sell or transfer any property while the restraining order is in effect.

The restraining order is good for 14 days. On Wednesday, the court will consider issuing a preliminary injunction. If approved, Wasatch Peaks Ranch would be required to cease all development and sales at least until the Utah Supreme Court rules on the referendum appeal. No date has been set for that hearing.

The five county residents who are seeking the injunction include Whitney Croft, David Pike, Robert Bohman, Brandon Peterson and Shelley Paige. Because of the appeal, they have not been able to obtain the documents for collecting signatures. They will need to collect about a thousand signatures to be able to put the zoning laws changes on the ballot.

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