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Landowners west of Kamas file preliminary paperwork for township

The would-be town of West Hills is on state Route 248.
West Hills Surveyor's Certificate
The would-be town of West Hills is on state Route 248.

Residents between Kamas and the Jordanelle Basin have filed for township status. The site may include land Summit County plans to purchase and preserve as open space.

Landowners and residents filed a request with Utah’s Office of the Lieutenant Governor April 27 to conduct a feasibility study for a new town, tentatively named “West Hills.”

The approximately 3400 acres are located along state Route 248 in the hills west of Kamas, stretching from the Ure family ranch near Democrat Alley toward the town of Hideout.

The incorporation process is being spearheaded by real estate attorney Derek Anderson. He’s a founding partner at Kimball Anderson Law Firm who owns land in the West Hills area.

Based on a state surveyor map, the Summit County Council is concerned that the proposed West Hills site may include land on the Ure family ranch, which Summit County currently has an option to purchase for $25 million for open space preservation.

At the county council meeting Wednesday, Councilmember Tonja Hanson said everyone in the room learned about the proposed incorporation the day before. She signaled the county would not like the land to be included in a new town.

Anderson’s friend Peter Watkins is the spokesperson for the self-described cooperative of “residents, farmers, and landowners” of West Hills, but doesn’t live there.

"The cooperative would be supportive of the county purchasing the land in order to preserve it as open space,” he said.

According to Watkins, residents have met with municipal leaders in Kamas, Francis and Summit County over the past two years. He said the residents wanted more land-use flexibility, especially the ability to build higher density than is currently allowed.

“Generally speaking, they found [local officials] to be uninterested in their requests,” Watkins said.

So, the group of residents announced their intention to form a town in a press release May 2, which emphasized preserving open space while also expanding land-use rights.

"The new town will encourage modest new growth and preserve up to 50% of the land for open space,” the press release says.

Another point emphasized in the press release is that the residents are following state law. Residents seem to want to distance themselves from the neighboring town of Hideout’s controversy.

“It's landowner-driven, cooperative, first and foremost—kind of the opposite of Hideout, which was developer-driven,” Watkins said.

Even Hideout’s town manager admitted in 2019 that the town was “more of a development.” Because of that, it sought to annex space in Summit County to create public spaces and a town center.

That annexation prompted a successful lawsuit from the county that the town appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court, which could rule on the annexation dispute later this year.

Hideout was incorporated as a town in Wasatch County in 2008, under a state law that briefly allowed the owner or owners of the majority of an area with at least 100 residents to incorporate—but without needing to ask the residents for permission.

The law has since changed and was changed again in the 2023 General Session of the Utah Legislature. Would-be towns still need at least 100 people within their boundaries to begin the incorporation process.

The most recent version of municipal incorporation rules shifts the work from the Lieutenant Governor’s office to the relevant county clerk.

But West Hills filed its paperwork on April 27, before the new law went into effect on May 2, so the Lieutenant Governor’s office is overseeing the feasibility study.

The process under the old law says the first step requires the owner or owners of 10% of the property in the proposed townsite to request a study from the Lieutenant Governor’s office. The office will see if the proposed town could plausibly provide services while running a balanced budget.

After that study comes back, the work will likely shift over to the relevant county clerk, in light of the new law.

If the Lieutenant Governor says the town could work, a majority of the voters in the area will need to vote “yes” to proceed with incorporation.

For now, the Lieutenant Governor’s office has 90 days from the April 27 filing to conduct its study.

Corrected: May 4, 2023 at 5:40 PM MDT
A previous version of this article incorrectly said "towns still need at least 100 registered voters in their boundaries to begin the incorporation process." The statute actually requires 100 people to begin the process.

When the residents vote on whether to incorporate, there must be 100 registered voters within town boundaries, but not all of them need participate.
Corrected: May 4, 2023 at 3:14 PM MDT
A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the filing was April 28, when in fact it was April 27.
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