SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Court of Appeals has sided with a group of citizens who contend the city of Moab went around municipal regulations to avoid a public hearing on a development project.
In a unanimous ruling made public on Saturday, the appeals court said Moab violated its own ordinances.
“By passing a resolution—without a public hearing—adopting a contract that altered the public hearing requirements set forth in city ordinances, the City violated not only [Land Use Development Management Act] but also its own municipal code,” Judge Ryan Harris wrote.
The case centers around the Lionsback Resort, a proposed luxury hotel and condominiums just outside Moab on state land. The original plan for the resort was approved more than a decade ago, the ruling said.
“More recently, however, Developer has proposed certain modifications to the Project’s site plan, but those modifications are publicly opposed by a group of local citizens,” Judge Harris wrote. “Aware of Citizens’ opposition, and also aware that Developer had threatened litigation if the newly-modified Project was not approved, the City of Moab entered into a contract with SITLA and Developer, pursuant to which the City agreed to deem the proposed modifications ‘minor’ rather than ‘major,’ a classification which, under applicable municipal ordinances, allows the proposed modifications to be approved without a public hearing. Shortly thereafter, the Moab City Council adopted a resolution—without holding a public hearing—authorizing the City’s mayor to execute the contract.”
The residents sued and a lower court sided with the city. However, the Court of Appeals reversed that decision. It found the changes were “major” and that the city had broken its own laws. The residents sought an order to block the project from proceeding until a public hearing is held.
The city had argued that the project is in the best interests of the community.
“We express no opinion on this question, but simply note that, if the [zoning status agreement] is truly in the best interest of the residents of Moab, the City and Developer theoretically should be able to persuade the Council to approve it, even after a public hearing,” Judge Harris wrote.
Read the Court’s ruling here: