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Referendum petition case goes to court

May 15, 2023 10:09AM ● By Linda Petersen

While Morgan County approved a public infrastructure district for Wasatch Peaks Ranch two years ago, and in February passed a new resolution expressing support for it, some local residents are still trying to fight the development. The issue is now before 2nd District Court Judge Noel S. Hyde.

The privately-owned ski/outdoor recreation area, which covers close to 10,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land near Peterson, and is planned for 750 homes, is being marketed to wealthy clients and will not be open to locals. 

“Wasatch Peaks Ranch is a private community and club in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains where members can enjoy year-round outdoor activities that start with skiing and golf and continue as far as your imagination can take you,” its website says.

“Access to the mountain will be restricted to investors and homeowners, who are expected to be among the ‘one percent of the richest one percent,’” a Jan. 29, 2021, Ski Area Management article says.

In 2019 Morgan County residents Whitney Croft, Robert Bohman, Brandon Peterson, Shelly Paige and David Pike attempted to get the issue before voters with a referendum petition, but then-County Clerk Stacy Netz rejected their application. The application did not have a copy of the development agreement, (the legislative action they were challenging), attached to it as required by law, did not include a certification indicating that each of the sponsors was a Utah resident and was not filed by the deadline, she wrote in a letter to them.

The residents subsequently filed suit asking the courts to compel Morgan County to accept the referendum petition. They could not submit a copy of the development agreement because county officials told them the document would not be available until 13 days after the deadline for their zoning referendum application and instead they submitted a detailed description, their initial complaint says. All legal requirements for the referendum application “were substantially and specifically satisfied,” their filing says.

In 2020 the developers filed a separate lawsuit against these residents  and Cindy Carter, the attorney representing them, seeking $10 million in damages claiming that Carter and the other defendants “entered into an agreement to continue to oppose the development by any means and to thereby delay work on the development, cause WPR to incur additional costs resulting from the delay, and to interfere with WPR’s funding and financing for the development,” the complaint says. It also alleges that Carter and Croft (a notary public) improperly notarized the signatures of the other defendants on the referendum petition. 

Further complicating the issue is a recent filing by Morgan County Attorney Garrett Smith to have the residents’ case against the county dismissed because it does not specifically name Netz’s replacement Leslie Hyde.

“The court should dismiss this action because petitioners failed to timely move to substitute the correct party after Ms. Clark ceased to hold public office …  This action should be dismissed because the current Morgan County Clerk is not a party to this action. Since Ms. Clark is no longer the county clerk, the court lacks jurisdiction to issue the relief sought by petitioners,” it says.

Hyde will consider both of these filings as he makes his decision regarding the lawsuit brought by the residents.

While the legal case has been hung up on technicalities at various points, Morgan County remains committed to its support of the development. “It is hereby found and determined by the commission that the creation of the district is appropriate to the general welfare, order and security of the county,” the Feb. 21 resolution stated.

If Hyde finds in favor of the residents, they will be allowed to move forward with getting enough signatures - they will need about 1,600 - to get the issue on the November ballot.λ

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