Private ski resort Wasatch Peaks Ranch loses attempt to block rezoning vote in Morgan County

Lawyers for the secret, members-only ski and golf project filed an appeal just hours after the judge’s decision.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wasatch Peaks Ranch’s exclusive playground, pictured Friday, April 7, 2023, drops just below a range of 24 mountain peaks east into Morgan County. The private driveway winds up to the site where a 750-unit development aimed at the richest “1% of the 1%” has been approved. It will include a Tom Fazio golf course, a village and numerous amenities, including 70 miles of hiking trails for residents’ exclusive use.

Morgan County voters could decide whether or not they want Wasatch Peaks Ranch in their backyard after all.

A judge ruled Friday to allow a referendum that would allow Morgan County residents to decide whether to approve a rezoning passed by the Morgan County Council in 2019. The rezoning of most of the 12,700-acre Wasatch Peaks Ranch from “forestry” and “multi-use” to a “resort special area” paved the way for the development of the ultra-luxury private ski and golf community designed to occupy 1% of the 1 %.

If the rezoning is refused, it could jeopardize the future of the resort. Dana Farmer, the attorney for the group that filed the referendum petition, said the Utah state constitution prohibits Wasatch Peaks Ranch from undertaking construction during the referendum that violates the original zoning plans.

“That’s what we hoped for. That’s what we expected,” Farmer said of the verdict. “We are very pleased to have received this decision after three long years of litigation.”

In his written decision, Second District Judge Noel Hyde said the county council’s decision would impact a specific site and result in new zoning and therefore could be subject to a referendum. The judge also found that the five Morgan County residents who filed the application in 2019 had met all deadlines and requirements of their application, despite what he called “aggressive” efforts by Wasatch Peaks Ranch officials had to ensure that this was not the case.

“WPR deliberately attempted to prevent the application from being submitted in a timely and complete manner [a]“Request” for a referendum, Hyde wrote. “WPR was very aware of the timeliness of the measure [a]“I submitted the application and aggressively attempted to produce proof that the submission was made after the deadline.”

Hyde also punished Wasatch Peaks Ranch for suing the county clerk, which the judge said was done “with the intent to intimidate the official into refusing to sue.” [a]Application.”

Mark Gaylord, lead attorney for Wasatch Peaks Ranch, said he disagreed with Hyde’s conclusion.

“If you look at the record itself, it speaks for itself,” Gaylord said, “and it speaks volumes.”

The District Council voted 6-1 on October 30, 2019 to approve the rezoning. Since then, the council has been reorganized into a five-member commission.

Shortly after the referendum petition was filed in November 2019, the county clerk rejected it on procedural grounds, triggering the lawsuit in 2nd District Court. That lawsuit then sparked two additional lawsuits: Wasatch Peaks Ranch filed a defamation lawsuit against the residents, and they in turn filed a Strategic Public Participation Lawsuit (SLAPP). Both lawsuits were dismissed.

While the five Morgan County residents viewed the approval of the referendum request as a victory, their fight is far from over. Wasatch Peaks Ranch filed an appeal Friday afternoon, hours after receiving Hyde’s decision, Gaylord said, and the case will soon go to the Utah Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also considered the case in 2021 but sent it back to the district court.

“We disagree with Friday’s ruling,” Gaylord said, “and that is clear from the notice of appeal.”

If a referendum is ultimately approved, Morgan County residents will need to collect about a thousand signatures to place it on the ballot. However, Farmer told The Tribune before the decision that the timeline was too tight to get it on the ballot in November, even if the resort didn’t object.

Editor’s note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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