Coalville City Council Votes Approval For Wohali Development 2.0
Following nearly a year of controversy, the Coalville City Council has granted an approval for a second version of the Wohali residential/resort development west of Interstate 80.
The Council unanimously voted Monday night for a proposed rural golf resort community, with 125 residential lots and 303 nightly rentals.
The Council vote gave a Master Plan Development and Phase One Preliminary Subdivision Plat approval to Wohali.
The community debate over the property goes back to 2018, when it was annexed by the city.
The developers proposed a mixed-use project of over 1660 acres calling for a Zone Map Amendment. It was approved by the Coalville Council a year ago. But after a citizens group launched a referendum effort, the applicants went back to the drawing board.
They put forth a new plan that would not change Wohali’s Agriculture Zone, and with residential, golf and rentals as permitted uses in the zone.
The opposition group Coalville For Responsible Growth asked for an Advisory Opinion from the State Ombudsman’s Office. In an initial opinion last September, that office said Coalville’s Agricultural Zone didn’t permit uses that would change the zone’s basic agricultural character.
But the developer’s request for reconsideration brought a reversal. The revised opinion, issued in late October, said that the previous ombudsman’s letter had relied on an incorrect, outdated version of Coalville’s ordinances.
The new opinion said that under the plain language of the city’s Ag zoning and MPD ordinance, the city could permit a mixed-use Master Plan with resort amenities, including overnight lodging.
The bone of contention, raised by opponents, was whether the nightly rentals exceeded the residential density limits allowed to the project. The second ombudsman opinion ruled that the nightly rentals were support accessory uses, not residential dwellings.
On Monday, the city’s planner for the project, Don Sargent, said the finding that the project complies with city code has been supported by city staff, an opinion from Salt Lake attorney David Church and now the ombudsman.
He said the staff certainly knows Wohali has been a hot-button issue in Coalville.
“The staff has been questioned, criticized, ridiculed and even slandered during this process of review of this particular application. And that’s okay, really because it’s had some angst in the community, although there have been some public comment voiced in favor of the application. There’s been a lot opposed to it.”
He said he’s worked hard to handle the project fairly.
“I have done my absolute best to take a neutral position on this project. I’m not for it, I’m not against it. I have reviewed it to the very best of my ability, and doing this for a few years, of making sure this project complied with the Development Code, as you’ve asked me to do.”
The attorney for Wohali, Wade Budge, also said he was stunned to see the emotions generated by the project.
“I’m personally amazed by some of the level of attack. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a staff attacked in such a personal way in my life. I would expect it maybe in some metropolis. Not here. I haven’t seen it in Salt Lake City. I haven’t even seen it to this level in some places we know in this county which are a little bit more contentious. But I will tell you this. We have an opportunity to say personal attacks don’t mean anything here. We don’t fall prey to them. We don’t take the invitation to make these kind of applications personal.”
Budge said the question for the Council Monday was whether the project complies with city code. But he said it’s also the case that the city should approve it.
“It is located in a perfect spot for this kind of use. There will not be any visual impacts on the city. It is located in a place where traffic is gonna be accommodated—not only that, where it will also be able to satisfy utility demands while still setting aside 1000 acres that are in your city for an open space, which provides its own benefits for wildlife and other uses that are important, and are found in your General Plan.”
Before the vote, Council Member Rodney Robbins suggested there could still be a legal defect in the plan.
The proposal calls for the nightly rentals to be both detached and attached, that is with shared walls. Robbins said there are indications that city code doesn’t allow the attached units for rentals—based on his conversation with the ombudsman and some passages within the opinion.
City Attorney Sheldon Smith said when the project comes back for plat approval, Robbbins could make his case then.
“At some point in time, the applicant’s gonna come in, and they’re gonna say, “Okay, we want 303 nightly rentals. And here’s our plan for those nightly rentals. And if they’re attached, you can say, “No based on what I see” which I don’t know what that would be. But you think you have found something in the law that says that they can’t have attached units, then that’s how the vote should be—not only you, but everybody else, that there’s a provision in the law that states that.”
City Attorney Sheldon Smith.
Afterward, we asked Lynn Wood, a spokeswoman for the Responsible Growth group, for a comment.
She wrote that they support the Council and their decision, and it’s good to get this approval behind them.
But she said they still disagree with how the city staff interpreted some aspects of the Ombudsman Opinion. Wood said they posed four issues to the city and they are extremely disappointed that the city staff refused to include the Ombudsman in the meeting to answer those questions.
She wrote, “The biggest take-away from this approval process has been the realization of how wide-open Coalville is to all types of mixed use projects in any zone. The newly-adopted provisions of the MPD code have done Coalville no favors. Unless the Council takes decisive action we could soon be overrun by unwanted development.”
Wood said the Coalville group will keep trying to protect the town’s rural heritage.