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Ombudsman Opinion Favors Wohali Opponents, But Is Disputed By Developers

Ken Lund on Flickr

An ombudsman’s opinion on the proposed Wohali project in Coalville has come down in favor of the local opponents.

But the developers say there are mistakes underlying the ruling, and they’re asking for a reconsideration.

The Advisory Opinion, dated September 15th, notes that after the Wohali property west of I-80 was annexed by Coalville, the applicants proposed a golf resort community as a Zone Map Amendment and a Master Planned Development.

The city approved that in late 2019, but after a citizens group launched a referendum effort, the applicants went back to the drawing board.

Under a new plan that wouldn’t change Wohali’s Agricultural Zone, they proposed 125 single-family residences; a golf course, with 303 nightly rentals as support facilities, and other amenities.

The protest group, Coalville For Responsible Growth, asked for an opinion from the State Ombudsman’s Office in mid-July.

In response, the opinion says that under plain language, Coalville’s Agricultural Zone doesn’t permit uses that are not incidental to Ag uses, and that would change the zone’s “basic agricultural character”.

The opinion says that a “recreational facility” is a permitted use in that zone.    But it concludes that under city code, a high-end luxury private-member golf resort with various resort amenities is not such a facility.

In response to the letter, the attorney for the citizens group, Polly McLean, said the past year has been a long road for the opponents, and this is a great victory.        

“The opinion really vindicates the Coalville For Responsible Growth, and everything that they have been talking about.   It puts in writing and justifies that Wohali needs to follow the code and the town of Coalville needs to follow their code.   And by trying to sneak in these 303 nightly rental units without any density associated with it, and all these support amenities for a resort, that that does not meet the code.”     

But contacted by KPCW, James Boyden, the manager for Wohali Partners, said that the opinion referred to the wrong city code and misunderstood the question that was presented by the opponents.    Boyden said the ombudsman has received new material and they expect a revised or updated opinion in the near future.

Coalville Mayor Trevor Johnson made the same point.       

“It appears that they were referencing, via a Google search, some code or some language, I should say, that was never adopted by Coalville City.   And so, in short, it looks like at least some of their opinion is based on wrong information in terms of code.   My understanding is the applicant has filed for a request to review and then has supplied the ombudsman group with actual code that we have on our books.”

The Mayor also said it’s his understanding that the ombudsman sent just a draft opinion.

However, attorney McLean said the ruling is official.

She said it’s not a surprise that the applicants are unhappy with the decision.     

“The opinion is well-reasoned.   The differences in the code that was used is minimal, so I don’t think that that’s really going to be an issue.  It’s not substantive.   And I don’t think it will change the ombudsman’s opinion.”

Attorney Polly McLean.       

The ombudsman ruling is non-binding, but she said it can have ramifications if the issue goes to court.   

For instance, McLean  said, if the Coalville Council denied the project, was sued by Wohali, but prevailed in court, after relying on the ombudsman opinion, Wohali would be required to pay the city’s attorney’s fees, in addition to a fine of $250 a day.


Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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