VIRGIN — Following a petition for referendum on a rezoning ordinance in Virgin, three of the town’s residents are facing a defamation suit from a company hoping to build a resort in town.
Zion Sunset Resort is looking to open a new resort in Virgin, about 20 miles west of Zion National Park. In the process, it has filed suit against Virgin residents Mark Savee, Adele Pincock and Linda Collet, as well as a list of up to 20 not-yet-identified “John Does.”
Last year, Zion Sunset Resort filed an application to rezone approximately 80 acres of land in Virgin from residential to highway resort zoning. The application was reviewed by the Virgin Town Council and the Virgin Planning and Zoning Commission.
While the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended to the Town Council that they not rezone, the Town Council approved the application and filed an ordinance to rezone.
Following the ordinance, Savee, Pincock, Collet and two other sponsors, Lyman Everett and William Swensen, filed a petition for a referendum with the Town Council, making the ordinance go to a public vote in Virgin.
The Town Council scheduled a special election for the vote, which will be June 23.
Rezoning for Zion Sunset Resort
The 80-acre parcel of land in question is often called the Munn property, named for the out-of-state owners, Duane and Susan Munn.
In February 2014, the Munns filed with the state of Utah to start Zion Sunset Resort, a limited liability company.
In August 2014, Zion Sunset Resort, the Munns and their agent Kason Smith filed the application to rezone the 80 acres as an HRZ, rather than the residential zone it was before.
Additionally, they filed a request to amend Virgin Uniform Land Use Ordinance Chapter 22 to allow them to use the land as a recreational vehicle resort and allowing parks, playgrounds and amenities on the land.
In the months following, the company presented information to the Town Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission showing the basics on how a resort might impact Virgin.
In October 2014, the commission recommended the council not approve the rezone or the amendment to the land use ordinance 22.
The commission released a findings report stating their reasons, which mainly were conflicts with the town’s general plan put in place in 2009.
However, the report did state other possible issues, such as problems with wastewater, interference with the natural landscape of the town and setting a precedence for future rezoning.
The report said their recommendation might have been different if the company had filed as a different type of commercial zone that the general plan allowed for, rather than trying to amend the plan.
Regardless of the commission’s recommendation, the council approved the application and passed an ordinance on Nov. 19, 2014.
The Town Council passed the resolution thinking it would be a “win-win situation,” Mayor Bruce Densley said.
The idea was that the resort could bring in revenue and jobs to the town, Densley said, and have less of a negative impact than would filling the 80 acres with houses.
Petition for Referendum
Savee, however, said he felt the council’s actions were “improprietous” and thus co-sponsored the petition to put the ordinance to a public vote.
The sponsors filed the petition with about 115 signatures with the town clerk on Nov. 20. They have since organized a movement in town called “Virgin’s Future,” and the referendum bears the same title.
The sponsors acted quickly because state law has tight time limits to file these types of petitions, Savee said.
The sponsors had originally expected the referendum to be on the ballot at the next election in November, Savee said, but were surprised when the Town Council decided to hold a special election.
The special election was set for June 23 because, Densley said, the council thought the town didn’t need an extra six months of arguing over the issue.
“(We are) exercising our right as American citizens and citizens of Virgin,” Collet said of the petition for referendum.
The sponsors’ intention was not to attack the resort, Savee said, but rather to keep the council from passing an ordinance without enough public input.
Densley agreed that it was their right to file the petition, just as it was the council’s right to pass the ordinance.
While there are some concerns the sponsors have expressed with the resort, their biggest issue is the rezone itself.
The town has a General Plan that was built on the community’s sentiment, Savee said, and this rezone went against that, placing a resort in the middle of town.
Originally, the general plan had allowed for a highway resort zone, but had placed it on the edge of town, rather than between two residential areas, where the Munn property is.
Lawsuit against the sponsors
Within the last couple of months, Zion Sunset Resort filed a legal complaint asking for a trial by jury against some of the sponsors of the petition.
Specifically, Savee, Collet and Pincock are being sued for defamation or slander and interference with the resort’s economic relations.
The complaint that was filed in Washington County’s Fifth District Court says that the sponsors knowingly and maliciously spread false information about the resort in trying to get signatures for the petition.
The complaint lists several different issues the sponsors allegedly presented false information on. These issues include traffic, water allowances, lights, crime and wastewater, as well as the truthfulness of the information they presented to the council.
The complaint also says the defendants told town members that they would stop the resort from being built at any cost.
Savee denied the allegations, saying that the lawsuit is an attempt to stop the referendum because the resort is afraid it will pass.
However, Smith said in a press release that the resort is just trying to find a way to compete with lies.
“Hopefully, a judge can even the playing field and Virgin citizens’ individual rights and collective interests can be served,” he said.
In the complaint, the resort owners ask for damages for economic damage caused by the slander and for an injunction to stop the referendum.
Densley said that people who signed the referendum have told him they wouldn’t have signed it if they knew the truth, while others have spoken up in defense of the sponsors saying they heard only the facts from the sponsors.
Savee, Pincock and Collet have not yet filed answers to the resort’s lawsuit. The resort is asking for a jury trial.
While this process has been divisive for Virgin, everyone involved seems to be ready for it to be over. All sides have encouraged voters to cast their ballot in the special election, and people have spoken out both for and against the rezone.
- Virgin General Plan
- Virgin Uniform Land Use Ordinance
- Planning and Zoning Commission Findings October 2014
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