A district court judge has ruled in favor of a group of South Rim residents, declaring a 2018 agreement with Southside Gravel to be illegal as well as arbitrary and capricious.
In a written ruling and order dated July 29, 3rd District Court Judge Diana Gibson wrote; “The Court concludes that, as a matter of law, the Tooele County Commission’s approval and execution of the Southside Agreement was illegal contract zoning.”
The Tooele County approved the Southside Settlement Agreement in August 2018.
Southside asserted they had a legal nonconforming right – a right that Gibson wrote “does not appear to have existed” – to extract gravel from a 176-acre parcel east of Silver Avenue from South Rim, which is southwest of Stockton.
The agreement settled the disputed claim for gravel extraction rights and averted what could have been a costly lawsuit, according to the county’s attorney at the time the agreement was approved.
The agreement allowed for commercial gravel extraction from Southside’s property for 25 years, but only under the terms of the agreement, which were more favorable to the county than what would happen if the county litigated the claim and lost, according to the County’s attorney.
A group of 32 South Rim residents filed a complaint with the 3rd District Court in September 2018 challenging the legality of the settlement agreement.
Scott Hunter and Gary Walker were listed as the primary plaintiffs.
“It’s been a long four years,” said Hunter. “This all started when I saw that sign on the gravel pit and went into the county and asked what we could do about having a gravel pit across the street from us. They told me ‘there’s nothing you can do.’ Well, I did something.”
The lawsuit was a community effort with many residents of South Rim contributing to pay the legal bills.
“It’s disappointing that citizens had to take their own local government to court to get them to enforce their own rules. The lawsuit wasn’t so much about the gravel as it was about getting the County to follow their own process.”
Walker said despite being told otherwise, it appears we were right a lot of the time.
“Many South Rim residents are very pleased with the decision,” Walker said. “The judge dismantled the county case and agreed with us that the county did not enter into the agreement in the proper way.”
In the complaint, the South Rim residents asked the court to issue a summary judgement that the agreement was void because it violated mandatory procedures applicable to zoning changes. They also asked the court to declare the agreement invalid because it was arbitrary and capricious in granting zoning concessions to Southside Gravel.
Gibson wrote in her ruling that the Southside Agreement was a land use decision, not merely a settlement agreement.
“It violates Utah Law and Tooele County ordinances,” she wrote.
Gibson further stated in her ruling that “homeowners were deprived of due process” and “the Tooele County Commission’s decision to grant non-conforming use status for commercial gravel pit operations appears arbitrary and capricious.”
Gibson heard oral arguments from attorneys on Feb. 5, 2020 and July 9, 2020.
The Tooele County Commission approved the Southside Agreement in their Aug. 21, 2018 meeting with a 2-1 vote. Commissioners Wade Bitner and Shawn Milne voted for the agreement. Commissioner Myron Bateman voted against the agreement, according to the minutes of the meeting.
In her ruling, Gibson stated that her decision was based on the process used by the Tooele County Commission.
“As a legislative body and an appeal authority, the Tooele County Commission is obligated to act for the good of the public, in accordance with Utah law, and not just for the benefit of one private citizen,” wrote Gibson. “Nothing about the process that culminated in the Southside Agreement was transparent, and the process did not comply with Utah law, CLUDMA (County Land Use, Development, and Management Act) or TCLUO (Tooele County Land Use Ordinance).”
According to Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne, the County Commission needs time to confer with their attorneys before they are able to respond to questions about the ruling.
The District Court did not decide whether Southside Gravel has the legal right to excavate gravel from the gravel pit, according to Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead.
“However, the Court ruled that when the County tried to achieve a compromise and settle the issue rather than litigating it, the County engaged in illegal contract zoning,” he said. “The County’s outside attorneys on this case, Snow Christensen & Martineau, are reviewing the decision and evaluating the County’s legal options. Following that review, the County will decide on how it will move forward.”