How did we go from a highly contested annexation hearing where Coalville City brought in the Wohali land to “protect Coalville” – to a new, developer influenced code that allows nearly any type of big development in any zone? A look back at the history of the Wohali Project provides a great deal of insight.
In a February 20, 2020 KSL interview, Wohali representative Jim Boyden explained, “I love Coalville and my family wants to leave a good legacy here, but I think people are afraid of change. I think there’s a fear that we’ll come and run roughshod over the community and take advantage of a community that hasn’t ever seen something like this before. That’s certainly not what we’re going to do.”
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of run roughshod is: “to completely ignore the opinions, rights or feelings of others (He achieved success by ruthlessly running roughshod over anyone who got in his way).”
For many in Coalville, it feels like that is just what the Wohali development has done – with support from the city staff, mayor and council. You can find the full news story here: KSL
A Simplified View
March 12, 2018 – At a well attended public hearing at the highschool auditorium, council member Arlin Judd made a motion to accept the Wohali Partners LLC Annexation Petition allowing 1,700 acres, 1,500 of which were Wohali property into Coalville City boundaries. Voting in favor were council members Arlin Judd, Adrianne Anson, and Tyler Rowser. Voting in opposition were council members Rodney Robbins and Cody Blonquist. You can find the minutes for that meeting here: 3/12/2018
July 23, 2018 – Don Sargent was hired by Coalville City mayor and council as a code revision consultant. After looking at three different proposals, the council voted 4 to 1 to hire Don Sargent. Voting in favor were Council Members Arlin Judd, Adrianne Anson, Tyler Rowser and Cody Blonquist. Voting in opposition was Council Member Rodney Robbins. He stated he preferred the proposal from Rural Community Consultants. According to the meeting minutes, Don Sargent stated he would suggest focusing on three major areas to get something on the books. Those three areas were 1. the process checklist for applications, 2. Making sure the code was consistent with the General Plan, Master Plans and Capitol Improvement Plans, and 3. Organizing the project impact and review criteria. Opposing Council Member Rodney Robbins asked if a survey of the citizens could be done to see what they would like to have happen so the community could be involved. Don Sargent stated something like that would be very time consuming and he wouldn’t recommend doing something like that with the time frame the city was looking at (A moratorium was in place, and there were four months left). The minutes for that meeting can be found here: 7/23/2018
December 10, 2018 – Mayor Trevor Johnson proposed that Don Sargent also take the lead on the controversial Wohali project as a supplemental development coordinator. Minutes to this meeting are not currently available on the city website.
March 18, 2019 – Coalville City Staff, Don Sargent, provided a list of Wohali’s requested amendments to Coalville City’s MPD provisions. A more detailed look is provided below. Staff Report Link: 3/18/19
May 13, 2019 – The developer indicates that they are, “Waiting for Don’s initial draft for Wohali review.” Link: 5/13/2019
May 20, 2019 – The new MPD is introduced to Coalville City Planning Commission. Link: 5/20/2019
August 12, 2019 – The city council passed the developer influenced MPD in a vote of 3-0 after very little discussion. Voting in favor were council members Adrianne Anson, Tyler Rowser and Cody Blonquist. Council member Arlin Judd was acting as Mayor Pro Tem and Rodney Robbins was absent. According to the minutes of the city council and planning commission meetings that took place from 5/20/2019 – 8/12/2019, City Attorney Sheldon Smith and Staff Member Don Sargent focused the discussions around percentages of deed restricted open space in the various zones. There was no mention by staff of the amendments contained in the MPD that were requested by the developer. These amendments are what flipped the Ombudsman advisory opinion on Wohali’s current pending application and have now opened Coalville up for major development in every zone. 8/12/2019
December 9, 2019 – The council voted 3 – 1 to approve Application #1 – Wohali Master Planned Development, Property Zone Amendment and Phase 1 Preliminary Plan after a public hearing where every resident who spoke was in opposition to the project. Voting in favor were council members Arlin Judd, Adrianne Anson, and Cody Blonquist. Voting in opposition was council member Rodney Robbins. (Tyler Rowser was absent). This application was under referendum and has since been pulled by the developer. No minutes for this meeting are available on the city website, but here is a link to the KPCW article about the meeting: KPCW
Wohali’s Influence On Coalville City Code
- In a staff report dated March 18, 2019, Coalville City Staff, Don Sargent, provided a list of Wohali’s requested amendments to Coalville City’s MPD provisions:
“The applicant is requesting amendments to the Master Planned Development (MPD) provisions in Title 8 Chapter 6 of the Development Code. The amendments are being requested to address the proposed village core design program including the following:
- Reductions in lot size, frontage, height and setbacks.
- Provisions for commercial support and accessory uses.
- Provisions for nightly rentals.
- Clarification on density calculations, allowed uses, parking standards and other MPD considerations.
- Applicability for implementing a Development Improvement Agreement (DIA) or other agreements.
The City is currently in the process of updating the development code, including the Master Planned Development provisions. Staff will need to review and evaluate the proposed amendments for consideration and recommendation to the Planning Commission.”
- In the Wohali responses May 13, 2019 the developer indicates that they are, “Waiting for Don’s initial draft for Wohali review.”
- The staff report from May 20, 2019 contains Don Sargent’s explanation that, “Although the applicant has proposed several revisions to the existing MPD provisions, Staff drafted the amendment to be applied city-wide.”
- May 20, 2019 – The planning commission was finally introduced to the proposed MPD at a scheduled meeting, whereas the Wohali staff had been influencing the draft since March 18, 2019. Wohali was allowed to “review” and most likely make suggestions and comments prior to the planning commission or public ever being involved. In the end, all the applicants requested amendments made it into our new MPD.
It’s clear that the majority of the new MPD code came directly from the Eastern Summit County development code Section 11-4-12. Only a small section of the original Coalville code was retained so it is very simple to locate the language that was inserted. Please see the attached highlighted version of the Revised MPD code Chapter 6. The code copied word-for-word from Eastern Summit County is highlighted in gray and sections from the original Coalville code are highlighted in blue. The wording that was inserted (not found in either) is in green. It is incredibly obvious that the wording in green was intentionally inserted for the benefit of the Wohali project and others like it. This wording, highlighted in green, was the basis for the complete turnaround of the Ombudsman’s opinion. (There are many other examples of inserted resort-friendy language throughout Chapter 6 but we have focused on pages 1-2 and the language involved in the Reconsidered Opinion). You can find the highlighted code here: MPD
CFRG has repeatedly asked the city to separate the jobs of code writing and development coordinator. We have pointed out the potential conflicts of interest that exist with allowing a staff member (who is also a local real estate agent) to write code and also work so closely with a developer. We have asked the city to rebid the position of code writer and to also have an outside firm conduct a citizen survey to see if our General Plan needs updating. Some council members have joined members of CFRG in advocating for this this change, but there has been a great deal of push back from Mayor Trevor Johnson and City Attorney Sheldon Smith.
City staff claims there has not been proof of any conflicting issues even though we have provided the city with all of the evidence above – and more. Additionally, the council has been told by the mayor and staff that they are the ones who approve the code, so any issues with the code really fall on their shoulders – not those of the code writer. While this is technically true, it is worth pointing out our council is very part-time and they don’t have the time or knowledge to sift through the code and look for all the potential problems. They count on staff to give them correct guidance.
The city has temporarily halted the code writing responsibilities, but seem unwilling to make the permanent change that is needed to ensure Coalville’s codes align with our General Plan and do not continue to be heavily influenced by developers.
Questions for Citizens and Council
These are some questions regarding this situation that we have asked our City Council Members to give some serious consideration:
1 – Is it ever a good idea to allow a developer to influence public policy and write development code?
2 – Were any of the discussions between staff and Wohali regarding the MPD amendments done in the public arena? How much of these MPD discussions took place in private emails, phone calls or private meetings where the application was also being discussed.
3 – Why was Wohali given this preferential treatment and a special exception “for support accessory uses in mixed use developments”?
4 – Does the new MPD give more or less control to the City Council? Does it support the goals of the General Plan to keep Coalville small, rural and historic?
5 – Eastern Summit County has a similar vision statement to Coalville. If their code was beneficial to copy why was it altered by inserting resort-friendly language.
6 – Why was CFRG attorney Polly McLean not invited or even made aware of the meeting with the Ombudsman attended by the Mayor, Don Sargent, Sheldon Smith and Wohali’s attorney Wade Budge? What was discussed at the meeting? Would there have been more balance to the decision with opposing counsel in attendance?
7 – Has the public money been well spent on the code amendments? Would the public be pleased with the results and feel that their interests and the community vision have been upheld?
What Do We Want?
It’s time to look at this situation with clear eyes! An honest answer to the preceding questions should drive citizens and council to a realization that we may have been “run roughshod over” and changes must be made!!! We must seek a qualified professional team experienced in rural planning or suffer the consequences like neighboring cities that have been overrun by resort development. We urge you contact city council members and the mayor. Encourage them to “protect Coalville” now by repealing the current MPD and restoring the original MPD until a complete strategic plan and general plan amendments can be completed.