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Planning commission allows resort to proceed to next development phase

Article Date: 
15 August, 2014 - 12:13

It was standing room only at the Aug. 14 Morgan County Planning Commission as more than 200 people crowded the Morgan County Courthouse and 45 people voiced their opinions about the proposed Yaryca Master Planned Community.
Applicants asked the commission to amend the county’s future land map in the East Canyon area, an action that could eventually make way for a new resort community. 
In a 4-2 vote, the planning commission voted to let the Morgan County Council know they support the future land use map amendment, re-designating 2,980 acres from natural resources and recreation to master planned community.
Planning commissioners were quick to point out that a land map change does not mean the land has been rezoned or that any particular plans have been approved.  It merely acknowledges that the county general plan calls for a resort in the area and allows the applicant to proceed with developing specific plans, initiating environmental studies, securing water and participating in other related actions mandatory before the county can consider a rezone.  Typically such studies cost the landowners and developer a lot of money with no guarantee of future building.
In essence, the planning commission did not approve any plans or a rezone—or allowances and entitlements—just allowed the applicant to proceed to the next step of the process.
Morgan County Planning Commissioner Debbie Sessions said the area has been contemplated for a future resort in both the county general plan and Envision Morgan exercises, but the size and character of the resort has not been specified. 
“This is not a rezone,” Sessions said.  “This is putting a spot on the map saying at some time in the future this is an appropriate place for a resort.”
Morgan County Commissioner David Sawyer said the general and area plans call for a small village feel.
“A future resort in unknown shape and size is contemplated in this area,” Sawyer said.  "You can debate it night and day, but wording is in the general plan.  This is a very policy-based decision rather than an emotional one," he said.
“The next step is to ask what is the appropriate size,” Commissioner Michael Newton said.  “That is not the decision before us tonight.”
As the project proceeds through the development process, the county will “be in the driver’s seat, as it should be,” Sessions said, and will be able to define the project during rezone and with development agreements, if it gets that far. She said the county’s ordinance is an “onerous” one and the developers will “have to play all their cards up front.”
Many in the audience asked for project specifics, but the applicant and project land owners remained tight-lipped although they presented grand plans at a commission meeting a month earlier (see related story).
Morgan County Commissioner Darrell Erickson said the county code doesn’t require applicants to reveal specific development plans at this stage.
“I would have loved to have seen a plan, but it is not required.  The law doesn’t require it.  It is important (the applicant) hear what you said,” he told the burgenoning audience, “or it won’t pass the next step if it gets that far.” 
Considering the number of people speaking out against the development at the Thursday meeting, many don’t want the resort  proceeding.  Of the 45 people taking the mic that evening, 33 spoke out against the development.
The reasons were many, but many brought up that the area is an important nesting ground for the Great Sage Grouse, a species that is not currently covered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but is on the list to be eligible for future protection.  Salt Lake and Cache County residents spoke at the hearing Thursday, saying people come from all over the state to witness the sage grouse lek, or nesting grounds, in Morgan.
Others mentioned the burden it would place on area schools, the lack of infrastructure such as water and sewer, the impact it would have on existing roads, the historical significance of the pioneer trails through the property, lack of specific plans at this time, increased traffic, increased water pollution, and the impact to wildlife.
“This is not the time or place for this,” said Morgan County Planning Commissioner Shane Stephens.  “I have many concerns with it.  The people in Morgan County are not in favor.”
“The way it is presented tonight, I cannot vote for it,” said Commissioner Steve Wilson, who joined Stephens in voting against the land map amendment.
Some commissioners were in favor of reconvening the Porterville Richville area plan to specifically consider the proposed resort.
Residents who have served on the Porterville Richville area plan in the past agreed that a resort in the area had been contemplated, but the size of the resort had not been pinned down.  The sentiment was that the 3,000-acre plan was much larger than area residents had envisioned.
Of the nine people who spoke in favor of the development, most were property owners or investors in the proposed development or were associated with the developer.  They said they had private property rights to develop on their own land.  In addition, they said they have no intentions to harm the land, but to create something to benefit the county.
If the plans proceed to the rezone phase, Newton hopes to see as many people attend that public hearing as were at this one.
“I would hope the members of the community show up in droves and give their input,” Newton said.  “This input is good.”
“Next time we have this discussion, I hope to see this turn out,” Sawyer said.  “We need more people involved.  The more input we get, the better decisions are made.”