The citizen’s appeal of the Wohali golf course and grading permits was heard and decided.
Summary of Coalville City Council Meeting
May 11, 2020
Appeal of Wohali’s Golf Course Grading and Building Permits
Due to Covid-19, the May 11, 2020 Coalville City Council Meeting was held both in person and over Zoom (audio only). In person attendance was limited to 20 people, consisting of the members of the council, city staff, and five representatives of each side of the appeal. Seating was spaced out and even the council sat in two rows. After the Pledge of Allegiance and welcome by the mayor, City Attorney Sheldon Smith addressed the council and explained their role and duties for the meeting. He explained how their roles were different than usual, because in order to make an administrative decision, they could only consider the facts put into evidence. Public opinion and desires could not be considered in this decision. He asked if anyone needed to recuse themselves from the proceedings. Council member Cody Blonquist recused himself because of three family members being listed on the appeal. Council member Rodney Robbins disclosed that his mother-in-law was listed on the appeal, but chose to participate in the hearing. The council nominated council member Tyler Rowser to act as the chair during the hearing. The mayor was told that he might need to act as a council member and cast a tie breaking vote, if necessary.
City Staff Position
City Staff, Don Sargent, was the first to address the council. He provided an overview of the application and went over the staff response to the appeal. He defended the issuance of the permit and stated that he had done his best to keep the planning commission and city council informed during the permitting process.
Appellate Group Position
The group who had filed the appeal addressed the council next. Lynn Wood, Louise Willoughby and Laurie Hirzel all spoke on behalf of the appellate group. They focused on four areas of code that they felt were not met or followed by the applicants or the city staff when the permits were issued. Lynn Wood began the presentation by stating, “I want to start out by saying something that might surprise you or even shock you. The right thing must be done for the developer…and contrary to developer claims of citizen harassment, this appeal is about insuring that all code sections have been complied with”. She continued on, discussing code items related to the appeal including lack of parking and that code requires final development approval before any building permits are issued.
Louise Willoughby discussed Coalville City Code 10-3-150 “Appeal of Administrative Decisions”. She said, “We filed an appeal to the appeal authority regarding a decision made by the city staff, Don Sargent, who was the land use authority. An action on the matter, which was grading and building permit was to be suspended until the appeal authority (which is you) acts on the appeal, which will be tonight.” Among other things, she pointed out that work has continued on the project sight after the filing of the appeal and that it should have been suspended under city code. She also discussed water for the golf course, which should be covered under city code 10-3-130-J that states “Upon finding the proposal complies with the applicable zoning requirement and can be adequately serviced by existing utility systems or lines, the plans shall be reviewed for Building code compliance and permit issuance.”
Laurie Hirzel was the final presenter for the appellate group. She said, “Our group concedes the fact that something will be developed on the property owned by Jim Boyden. We recognize the fact that it is private property and that property owners have a right to do what they will on their land in accordance with city zoning codes. What we have a problem with is the way this application was approved.” She concluded by insisting, “What we are asking for is that decisions of such magnitude be made and voted on by our elected officials – YOU- and not by unelected city staff members. Your role in this administrative process in integral.”
The developer’s attorney, Wade Budge, defended the issuance of the permits by saying they were making use of their land that was consistent with code. He said, “Coalville City is being invited tonight to embark on a path where, if you don’t like your neighbor, then appeal their building permit for a home to the city council.” He stated that a golf course is a permitted use in the Ag Zone, and as such it falls under the same process as a building permit for a house, a park or a barn. He advised the council that staff had acted under the code and pointed out that the opponents had not proven city staff had ignored issues in following the code in regards to the issuance of permits. He also said the opponents had failed to mention House Bill 388, a new state code concerning appeals signed into law by the governor just last week, which imposes an additional requirement that someone who files an appeal has to show that they have been specially damaged by what the developer has done. He called it the “fatal flaw” in the opponent’s argument.
City Attorney Position
City attorney, Sheldon Smith, addressed the council again near the end of the hearing. He expressed his views concerning the appeal and stated, “I have looked at this closely and believe that staff followed the law with exactness.” He reminded the council of their role in the vote.
The time was turned back over to the council to make any comments or ask any questions. Council member Phillip Geary had a request for the city staff. He asked that in the future, the city council have more information on, and input about large project applications. Council member Tyler Rowser questioned the city attorney about the new code or “fatal flaw” introduced into the hearing by the developer’s attorney, Wade Budge. It was discovered that the law didn’t go into effect until the day after the hearing (May 12th) and would only be applicable if the appeal went onto district court.
Council member Rodney Robbins asked to read a statement concerning a couple of emails, both from the developer’s attorney and from the city attorney. He stated that in an email forwarded to him by city attorney Sheldon Smith, the developer’s attorney Wade Budge, had accused him of “consistent impermissible bias” and had insisted that he recuse himself or that the city disqualify his vote. He also talked about an email that was sent to the entire council, by city attorney Sheldon Smith, asking them to consider possible conflicts of interest and instructing them that actions taken by them that create liability for themselves will not be covered by the city and would be their responsibility. Robbins said he “fiercely refuted” the accusations by the developer and stated that the “exhibits” included in the letter from Mr. Budge were all taken from meetings where he was fulfilling his role as an elected, legislative official – representing his constituents. He also defended his ability to form his own opinions independent of his wife and mother-in-law, who are active in the group Coalville for Responsible Growth. He concluded his letter by stating that he had the ability to participate and vote in the hearing as an unbiased quasi-judicial official in the night’s separate roll.
Finally, council member Geary made a motion against the appeal. It was seconded by Robbins and all council members voted “aye”. The appeal was dismissed by a unanimous vote of the four participating council members. A tie-breaking vote wasn’t needed. This means that the work on the golf course can continue without interruption.
Wrapping it Up
The rest of the meeting consisted of housekeeping items like budget approval and updates from staff and council. One notable update by staff, Don Sargent, was that he is continuing to work on updating the city code. He asked about the format of future city council and planning commission meetings under the counties Covid-19 regulations. The consensus seemed to be that until groups of 50 were allowed in a group gathering, they would stick with the online zoom format. It was suggested that those meetings include the video component, and not just audio alone.