The Tooele County Planning Commission approved a road that was already built and the closing of a road that was already closed during its March 6 meeting.
The planning commission recommended that the County Commission approve a request from Chris Robinson, developer of Saddleback development in Lake Point, to vacate part of Sunset Road. It also approved the preliminary and final plat for a Saddleback plat that includes a road dedication for a new section of Saddleback Road.
The new section of Saddleback Road is designed to be a collector road, providing access from Saddleback to state Route 36. It also replaces the connectivity provided by the vacated portion of Sunset Road, according to Robinson.
“Saddleback, Flying J, and the state participated in building Saddleback Road when SR-36 was widened in 2001,” Robinson said. “We built a robust intersection with SR-36 because Saddleback Road was envisioned as a collector road. Opening it now will take pressure off of some of the other roads that people have been using to access SR-36.”
Yet, it wasn’t lost on anyone at the meeting that Sunset Road had already been blocked off for months prior to the consideration of formal vacation of the road, and the extension of Saddleback Road, including the installation of roundabouts, was already constructed and in use before the plat for the road was approved.
“The proposed Saddleback Road is already built, roundabouts installed, in use and up and running,” said Jeff Miller, Tooele County Planning staff. “Sunset Road is already blocked off.”
Robinson, the planning commission, county planning staff, and the public all acknowledged that approval after the fact wasn’t the right way to conduct business.
Planning commission member Blair Hope wasn’t happy about the process.
“Again, the cart is before the horse,” he said “The reality is that this is a precedent that we are setting, that the developer can go develop land and then come and ask for approval. What are we doing? When is enough enough? This is getting out of hand. What you are asking for is approval to do what is already done. Shame on the process for allowing this to be done.”
Miller said the problem wasn’t only with Robinson. Other developers have developed a habit in the past of starting work without full approval.
“We have told them not do do this anymore,” Miller said.
Robinson was asked how many more roads or subdivisions is he going to come and ask to be approved after he has already started to build them.
“None,” he said.
Lake Point resident Mick Phillips complained about the build-it-first and then-ask- permission process.
“This section of Sunset Road has been blocked and vacated for several months now,” he said. “He [Robinson] is now asking for approval. This is sending a message to other developers to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.”
Curt Jensen, Tooele County Planning Commission member, called the process of approving things after they are done “irksome.” However, Robinson’s plan appears to be compliant with his 20-year-old agreement approved by the county, he said.
Planning Commission member Jessica Blundell had several questions about the new Saddleback Road. She read from a federal code on roundabouts: “Hard objects facing entries to roundabouts are a safety hazard.”
Blundell wanted to know if the sign facing the entry to the first roundabout was a safety hazard. She also asked about the weight rating of the road, standards for the lights on the road, and trucks already parking in areas of Saddleback posted as no parking.
“Large trucks leaving the TA truck stop come down Saddleback to access SR-36,” she said. “Can this road handle large trucks on a daily basis? The road department has inspected and approved the road, but did they realize large trucks were using it, that it’s not just a residential collector?”
Lake Point resident Jonathan Garrard asked during the public hearing about sidewalks and safe crossing places on Saddleback Road.
Lake Point resident Donna Phillips expressed her frustration with the after-the-fact approval.
“It’s already built,” she said. “Who are we supposed to turn to when you let him [Robinson] get away with this? Developers can do whatever and get what they want and citizens that live here can’t do anything. It’s disgusting that we have to deal with all this.”
Blundell said he is waiting to see promised improvements for the community.
“A part of developers coming in is to better the community,” he said. “I’m still waiting for it.”
Erda resident Clyde Christensen asked, “Why isn’t the county inspector stopping this stuff?”
Rachelle Custer, Tooele County Community Development director, explained that the county can’t stop people from building things on private property that don’t require a permit.
“We can’t stop him from building the road,” she said. “You can do whatever work on your private property, but we can stop him from dedicating it to the county.’’
The County Road Department did do inspections during the construction of the road, according to Custer.
“We have since asked them not to do that without a permit,” she said.
Robinson acknowledged that he completed Saddleback Road at his own risk.
“I accept responsibility,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of excuses. We started out wanting to apply for both of these [the Sunset Road vacation and the Saddleback Road approval] in the first half of last year. One reason we held off on the vacation was so we could do them together. The road was inspected and built according to standards. If you say you don’t want the road, we can block it off.”
The planning commission voted 5-1 to recommend that the County Commission approve the vacation of Sunset Road.
Blundell was the lone “no” vote.
“It’s a historic section of the Lincoln Highway,” Blundell said. “I think if we continue to let people take away small sections of our history, eventually our country will have no history.”
The vote to approve the dedication of Saddleback Boulevard was unanimous.
The County Commission will make the final decision on the Sunset Road vacation at a future meeting.
Approved by the County Commission in 1998, the development agreement for Saddleback allows an average density of one house per acre on the property covered by the agreement, but allows for lots as small as 8,000 square feet in exchange for open space.
The agreement is a legally binding contract between the county and the landowner. The term of the agreement is for 50 years.
The Community Development Department is monitoring Robinson’s compliance with the development agreement, according to Custer.