Residents of Rural Utah County Beat Big-Money Ski Resort Developers in Court

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty/Flickr Commons
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty/Flickr Commons

After a bitter, years-long fight with big-money developers, the residents of a rural county in Utah will now have a say on whether they want a massive ski resort in their tiny town.

Five residents of Morgan County won a court battle last week over their application for a referendum on the resort, Wasatch Peaks Ranch, which would span 11,000 acres and cost $500,000 a year for membership. The developers—a group of wealthy, anonymous investors—challenged the petition when it was filed in 2019, arguing it was improperly notarized and submitted five minutes past the deadline.

On Friday, Second Judicial District Court Judge Noel S. Hyde ruled in favor of the residents, ruling that there was “insufficient evidence to establish that the application was untimely” and that the arguments regarding the notarization were unpersuasive. The decision allows the petitioners to start collecting the signatures needed to get the referendum on the ballot.

Cindy Carter, a resident who helped organize the referendum, said she was “extremely” confident they would get the signatures needed.

“I just have to say that I feel like this is such a win for right versus wrong,” she said. “All we have done is try to give the people their voice, and that's what the U.S. Constitution guarantees.”

“These guys think with big money that they can take away that right,” she added. “And I think on Friday we proved to them they can't.”

Inside the Battle Royale Over a Utah Ski Resort for the Uber-Rich

The developers appealed the case to the Utah Supreme Court on Monday. A spokesperson for Wasatch Peaks did not respond to a request for comment.

A vocal contingent of Morgan County residents have opposed the resort since it was proposed in 2019, arguing that it would destroy the small-town character of the area. The developers, who include Dick Bass of Snowbird and Earl Holding of Snowbasin, argued it would create jobs and bring in tax revenue while preserving much of the open land on the property.

The referendum, filed by locals Dave Pike, Bob Bohman, Shelley Paige, Whitney Croft, and Brandon Peterson, challenges a Morgan County Council vote that approved the rezoning of the Wasatch Peaks Ranch land for commercial development. The petitioners say the council approved the change—the largest rezoning in the history of the county—despite more than 1,000 residents signing a letter opposing it.

“I just didn’t think the seven county council members listened to us,” Croft, a seventh-generation Morgan County resident, previously told The Daily Beast. “It wasn’t anything personal, we just wanted to let the people decide.”

The residents have also claimed that the developers staged an intimidation campaign against them, threatening to sue if they persisted with the referendum, and then did exactly that. Hyde did not weigh in on these claims in her ruling, but did argue that the developers “aggressively attempted” to create a record that the referendum was filed after the deadline, rendering their testimony about the petition’s timeliness “unreliable.”

Despite the public pushback, the developers have forged ahead with construction. Three high-speed ski runs are currently in operation, with more to come—unless the citizens of Morgan County vote otherwise.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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