South Rim residents thought their fears of having a gravel pit for a neighbor ended at the July 18 Tooele County Commission meeting.
That’s when the county commission unanimously approved the motion, “Be it resolved that Tooele County intends to honor paragraph 3a of the 2001 development agreement with L&B Development Company Inc. for the Benches at South Rim Project.”
Paragraph 3a of the development agreement states that the gravel pit near South Rim is to be closed when the Benches at South Rim Project are completed.
“It’s pretty cut and dry,” said South Rim resident Scott Hunter following the July 18 meeting. “Silver Avenue is done. The roads in South Rim are done. The county needs to require the pit to be closed — now.”
But the “Stop South Rim Pit” Facebook page lit up with comments a week ago when heavy equipment arrived at the gravel pit, which lies across Silver Avenue from South Rim homes, and started moving dirt around.
Having heard no official word from the county to the contrary, Jay Harwood, managing partner for South Side Gravel, LLC, the owner of the pit, said he is cleaning up debris and building a berm in compliance with his operating plan for the gravel pit that he previously filed with the county.
“I’m just doing what the operations plan, that at one time the county said was approved, calls for,” Harwood said.
Harwood claims an advisory opinion from the state’s Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman means he can expand South Side Gravel Pit to the boundaries of the present parcels where the pit is located, which includes 160 acres.
The commissioners’ support for the South Rim Development agreement came with a caveat from the county’s attorneys, according to county commission chairman Wade Bitner.
“There are private property rights involved here that we have to respect,” Bitner said. “After consulting with our attorneys, it is up to the owner of the development agreement to decide when the project is completed.”
According to Harwood, the partners in L&B Development, who sold the gravel pit property to him, told him the South Rim project won’t be completed until the last house in South Rim is built.
Even after the development is considered complete, Harwood said the development agreement might not withstand a challenge in court.
South Rim residents sent complaints about Harwood’s current work at the gravel pit to Tooele County Recorder/Surveyor Jerry Houghton.
Houghton has been the acting director of the Tooele County Community Development Division since May 2013.
Appearing at the Sept. 6 meeting of the Tooele County Planning Commission to voice their concerns about the work at the gravel pit, South Rim residents were told by the chairman of the planning commission to address their concerns to Houghton, who functions as the county’s zoning enforcement officer.
But on Friday, Houghton posted the following comment on the “Stop South Rim Pit” Facebook page: “At 5 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2017, I emailed a letter to the Tooele County Commissioners, turning over the duties associated with the Tooele County Community Development Division to their direct oversight. This includes the engineering and planning and zoning functions. The commissioners have directed my staff and I to forward all calls, correspondence and requests regarding the South Side Gravel Pit [South Rim Gravel Pit] to them and that only the commissioners and attorneys are authorized to answers questions or speak to concerns.” (See related front-page story)
In response to Houghton’s relinquishing the planning and zoning duties to the county commission, South Rim residents said they will file their formal complaints with the county commissioners.
Gravel pit opponents said they not only believe that the gravel pit be should be closed, they also claim that Harwood’s latest operations violate county nuisance ordinances and ordinances pertaining to the keeping and use of construction equipment on residential property.
“Jay Harwood is operating heavy equipment in South Rim in RR-5 zone,” said Josh Maher, South Rim resident. “This is violating chapters 8 and 15 of the land use ordinance. Tooele County knows about this and is not stopping Harwood.”
South Rim resident Matt McCarty is also concerned about the work at the gravel pit.
“It is our opinion that the land with the gravel pit should not have been sold until the terms of the agreement were complete,” he said. “The pit should have been closed and reclaimed first. There is no indication from South Side Gravel that it intends to do anything for South Rim. Its trucks will endanger residents and quickly damage Silver Avenue.”
Bitner said the commission is working on the issue.
“I have personally answered emails from South Rim residents about the gravel pit,” Bitner said. “But our attorneys have advised us not to elaborate on it at this time.”
Maher wants quick action by the county commission to resolve the gravel pit issue.
“Tooele County is losing the opportunity to prove that they will uphold their own laws and agreements,” he said. “Is this the wild west or are the ordinances, laws and agreements that protect families in Tooele County going to be upheld?”