Hurricane City Council postpones decision on controversial development

Hurricane City Council members during a meeting at the Fine Arts Center, Hurricane, Utah, Feb. 7, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

HURRICANE — After a few hours of listening to views on the proposed “Lost Trails at the Cove” development, Hurricane City Council members voted Thursday night to delay the decision on the controversial development until their next meeting.

A screenshot of the site plan for the proposed Lost Trails at the Cove development in Hurricane, Utah | Image courtesy of Hurricane planning and zoning department, St. George News

Much like the planning commission meeting nearly a month ago, Hurricane residents commented on the development during a public hearing at Thursday’s meeting. Although attendance wasn’t as high as the planning commission meeting, residents still flooded into the Hurricane Fine Arts Center to voice their thoughts on the proposed development.

What City Council had to decide is whether to approve a request by Washington City developer Jim Thomas to amend the general plan to allow for 340 acres in the Cove to be rezoned to mixed use. The Cove, located north of 600 North at approximately 2000 West, is currently zoned as single family residential up to four units per acre.

Before the public hearing, Hurricane City Mayor John Bramall made it clear to the audience that booing and disruption would not be permitted.

Thomas and attorney Adam Dunn, who is representing the Sky Mountain Home Owners Association, were each given 10 minutes to speak before the public hearing started.

Thomas, who used a video presentation to talk about the development, said, “I want to create a town that when you go into the town, it’s like you’re going 100 years in the past.”

Read more: Developer says ‘Lost Trails at the Cove’ is a good fit for Hurricane, but will City Council agree?

During the presentation, as well as in previous meetings about the development, Thomas said he’s not interested in destroying the Cove, and it’s going to be developed one way or another.

“I want to make sure it’s developed responsibly.”

Dunn, however, said it’s the developer’s duty to show why the current use and plans for the Cove are no longer appropriate and feasible, later adding that Thomas has failed to do so.

“It is not sufficient to simply say, ‘We want to do something different. Therefore, let us,'” Dunn said. “If that were the case, there would be no point to the general plan.”

One of the concerns about Thomas’ plan is the two roads that would go through residential neighborhoods to enter into the development. Dunn said the current general plan provides that small, isolated commercial buildings may be considered on a case-by-case basis if the use and building are compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

“We have this gorgeous open space, and it’s now adjacent to a commercial center,” he said. “This is not a small, isolated commercial project.”

Many residents agreed with Dunn’s statements as they addressed the City Council. About 35 people chose to speak during the public hearing.

One resident said the Western-themed model of the development is bound to fail.

“A number of Western theme parks were tried in the late 1960s and in the early 1970s and few lasted very long,” she said, citing news articles.

Another resident opposed to the development said there’s not enough population or interest in Hurricane to successfully sustain it.

“Hurricane is the gateway to many marvelous, natural wonders the world has to offer,” she said, “and a Wild West attraction is not one of them.”

Penny James-Garcia, community manager for Sky Mountain, addresses the Hurricane City Council, Hurricane, Utah, Feb. 7, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

More than a few residents from Sky Mountain, a community next to the Cove, also spoke during the public hearing, including Penny James-Garcia, community manager for Sky Mountain. Before sharing her thoughts, she asked everyone who’s opposed to the development to raise their hands. The majority of the room raised their hands.

She said changing the general plan would be “wildly irresponsible.”

“We are not anti-growth,” James-Garcia said, referring to Sky Mountain residents. “On the contrary, we embrace smart growth. What we oppose is this development in this location.”

During the public hearing, a stack of 1,100 signed petitions against the development were handed to the city recorder. Other concerns that were brought up included doubt over Thomas’ experience as a developer, possible violations of the general plan and lack of emergency response time due to the increase in traffic.

While the majority of those who spoke were against the development, around 10 people came to Thomas’ defense and spoke in favor of the development, including planning commission member Rebecca Bronemann. She was one of the few planning commission members to vote for the development. She said the 1,100 people who signed the petition against the development only represent a small portion of the city’s population of 17,000 people.

Bronemann said at the meeting that the number of people who signed the petition represented around 6 percent of the population; however, this number would seem to be based on total population, not on the number of residents eligible to sign a petition. (See Ed. note)

Read more: Hurricane residents: Old West town development doesn’t fit general plan, damages small-town lifestyle

One resident said it’s unfair for people to attack the character of a man they don’t know. She said she spoke to a man from Jackson Hole, Wyoming – where Thomas is from and where he had a similar project –  and the man said the projects Thomas helped develop were useful and that many people in Jackson Hole spoke highly of him.

“I feel like the young people of this area deserve an opportunity to progress. I feel like if you’re over 70, you shouldn’t be stopping progress for people who are going to be living in this area,” one woman said, adding that she’s over 70 years old.

Bramall closed the public hearing after nearly two hours.

Hurricane City Attorney Fay Reber told council members their decision has to be “reasonably debatable.” Some members had questions or concerns about the request to change the general plan.

City Council member Kevin Thomas said the general plan, which is created by city officials, is reviewed every few years because there are reasons to change it.

“It’s within our right to change the general plan, and the argument of saying we shouldn’t change the general plan doesn’t have merit,” Thomas said.

Hurricane City Council member Kevin Thomas speaks in favor of the “Lost Trails at the Cove” development, Hurricane, Utah, Feb. 7, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Thomas also said he was disturbed by the tactics people used to scare away people from learning the facts about the development, which he said included mailers and signs on telephone poles.

“A tremendous effort was put out there to scare people away from this development,” he said. “There was a large attempt to smear the name of someone who I don’t know.”

Thomas said he has spoken to many people who are in favor of the development, prompting some people in the audience to ask, “Where are they?”

He said he’s not convinced that the majority of residents are against the development.

“Those who are elected make decisions based on what they believe is best for a community as a whole … that’s what a representative republic does,” he said, adding that if people don’t like that about him, they can vote him out of office.

City Council member Pam Humphries said the development is a good idea but she’s not convinced that all 340 acres need to be rezoned as mixed use.

Bramall expressed his concern over wanting the Cove to stay zoned as residential.

Councilman Darin Larson said it’s important for people to remember that there are further steps beyond the City Council’s decision.

However, council members decided to postpone the decision, unanimously approving Kevin Thomas’ motion to bump it to their next meeting on Feb. 21. The delay will enable them to do more research and allow Jim Thomas and his team to address any unanswered questions.

Bramall said there will not be another public hearing.

“There are a number of people here opposed to the project,” Reber said to the council. “We owe it to them to make sure that we have accurate information.”

Jim Thomas said after the meeting he is confident he and his team can address a lot of concerns City Council may have.

“We were hoping to get a little further down the road, but I can understand their concerns,” Thomas said. “We’ll try and answer everything that they have, so we can move forward.”

Ed. note: This article has been updated to include a clarification of a statement made at the city council meeting by Rebecca Bronemann.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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