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2007-07-23 08:04:00

Utah Supreme Court Supports Property Owners

 The shaded area highlighted with diagonal lines represents the property area that will be disconnected from the municipality of Bluffdale. (Graphic: Business Wire)Salt Lake City, UT -- The Utah Supreme Court has ruled in favor of approximately 53 property owners who want to disconnect their combined 3,900 acres of land from Bluffdale, a small city on Salt Lake Valley’s southwest bench. The property owners maintained that Bluffdale’s zoning process was dysfunctional, due to the city’s inability to plan for and provide services to the properties; its referendum system, which makes it impossible for the city to negotiate in good faith; and its ongoing internal political conflicts.

“This is not only a victory for developers,” said James Lee Sorenson, CEO, The Sorenson Group of Real Estate Companies. “This is a victory for all Utah property owners who deserve a fair, consistent and expeditious zoning process.” The Sorenson Group owns Rosecrest, one of the master-planned communities involved in the lawsuit. Sorenson said he had negotiated with Bluffdale for 13 years over zoning regulations, without ever being able to reach a permanent agreement.

The dispute focused on whether the property owners would be allowed to build higher-density neighborhoods that include trails and parks and preserve open space in a city that required a minimum lot size of one acre for each single-family dwelling.

The lawsuit to separate the property owners’ land from Bluffdale had been pending for three years. In the fall of 2005, it appeared Bluffdale city officials had finally found a mutually agreeable way forward with Rosecrest and Development Associates, the two largest property owners, but a petition by a group of citizens first delayed and then killed implementation of the agreement.

The decision, upheld by today’s Utah Supreme Court ruling, was from Third District Judge Anthony Quinn, who on Feb. 27, 2006 ruled, “In the current climate, it is simply not possible to negotiate with the city [Bluffdale]. The city’s administration has in effect become an agent with no authority, who can say no, but can never say yes, and provide a reliable decision not likely to be attacked by referendum. Leaving the property in the city will only prolong this dysfunctional and contentious process.”

Today’s unanimous 5-0 ruling affirmed the district court’s finding that “the Plaintiffs met their burden of proving the statutory requirements for disconnection.”

In the appeals case, Utah Supreme Court Justice Matthew B. Durrant ruled, “Our review … leads us to affirm the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law as follows: 1. The district court had subject matter jurisdiction over the disconnection petition; 2. The disconnection is viable; 3. The disconnection will not materially increase the cost of Bluffdale’s municipal services; 4. The disconnection will not make it unfeasible for Bluffdale to function as a municipality; 5. Justice and equity require the disconnection; 6. The disconnection does not leave or create a prohibited peninsula; and 7. Disconnection is an appropriate remedy.”

Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Durham, Associate Chief Justice Wilkins, Justice Nehring and Judge McHugh concurred in Justice Durrant’s opinion.

Rosecrest and Development Associates said they would immediately apply for incorporation of their land into the adjoining community of Herriman. “We are excited about being included in Herriman,” said Dave Millheim, Development Associates managing partner. “City leaders there have been forward-thinking and reasonable in their requirements.”

“Today’s final decision by the court is welcome,” said Bruce Baird, attorney for the property holders. “For years, these owners tried their best to work with Bluffdale, meeting every single requirement the city came up with. But unfortunately, foot-dragging and backtracking during negotiations forced the property owners to go to court to get a final solution to the problem. We are grateful for the wise conclusion by the district judge — now confirmed by the state’s highest court — that private property owners cannot be deprived of an equitable, rational zoning process.”

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