Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

January 10, 2019
Stansbury Lake deemed public

Lake’s status has been public since 1983, says legal opinion by water law expert 

After a contentious meeting in August over the status of Stansbury Lake, the Stansbury Service Agency board sought a legal opinion on the lake’s status. 

During the board meeting Wednesday night, trustee Mike Johnson presented a letter from Brent Rose of Clyde Snow Attorneys at Law, which spelled out the legal status of the lake: it’s public — and has been since it was deeded to the service agency following the bankruptcy of developer Terracor. 

“In our opinion, it is quite clearly a public lake, more accurately a government-owned lake and thus open to the public,” the legal opinion said.

The five-page legal opinion submitted by Rose, a Stansbury Park resident and water law expert, addresses the history of Terracor in Stansbury Park and answers several questions about the status of the lake and what prohibitions or regulations the service agency could place on its use. 

The legal opinion said Terracor, which originally developed Stansbury Park and other communities in the state and around the country, typically established a homeowner’s association “to own, operate and maintain all of the amenities and common areas” and membership was mandatory, with dues assessed to each lot. This was not the case in Stansbury Park, however, and the legal opinion said the protective covenants on properties in the community make no reference to an HOA. 

Instead, Terracor retained ownership of the lake, golf course, clubhouse, parks and other open spaces in Stansbury Park. Rose cited his personal experience that, while the community amenities were privately owned, they were accessible to the public. 

“I moved to Stansbury Park in 1980, and have personal knowledge of the fact that since that time the Stansbury Amenities were always open to and available for the use of the general public as well,” Rose said, in the legal opinion.

When Terracor filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1981, two county service areas — the Stansbury Greenbelt Service Area and Stansbury Recreation Service Area — were established, the legal opinion said. Legal title to the golf course, parks, greenbelts and lake was conveyed by deed to the respective service areas at that time. 

In its findings, Rose’s legal opinion details there is nothing in the protective covenants “which reserves the right of use of the Lake solely to owners and residents in Stansbury Park or limits in any way the use of the Lake by the public at large.” Similarly, nothing in Terracor’s bankruptcy plans reserves or restricts the lake from use by the public. 

The legal opinion also cites legal precedence in which the lake could have been maintained as private, if the covenants, bankruptcy plan or deed had included those restrictions. 

“That did not happen,” the legal opinion said. “There was then, and has never been, any such covenant, reservation restriction or limitation.” 

When the lake and other amenities were deeded to the service agency, an interlocal government entity, it became government-owned property, or a “government-owned lake open to the public,” the legal opinion said. 

“Thus, any claim to the Lake being a private lake, however weak such a claim may have been even while Terracor owned the Lake, was certainly extinguished in 1983 upon legal transfer of the Lake’s title to the Stansbury Recreation Service Area — whereupon it become (sic) government-owned, and available to the public,” the legal opinion said. 

It’s unlikely the service agency could completely deny non-residents from accessing the lake, but restrictions, such as reasonable fees for use by non-residents, could be enforced, the legal opinion said. 

Johnson, who had questioned the legality of enforcing Stansbury Lake as private, summarized the legal opinion succinctly. 

“The answer is it’s a public asset,” Johnson said. “It was private when Terracor built it because Terracor was a private entity, but it was deeded over to the service agency without any deed restrictions whatsoever.”

Trustee Glenn Oscarson said the service agency would have to determine if it wants to collect revenue by charging non-residents for using the lake. 

Johnson proposed creating a sub-committee, including trustee Brenda Spearman, general manager Gary Jensen, and office manager Tracey Schmidtke, to look into providing a private security guard for the lake during peak usage. 

“The problem isn’t non-residents are using the lake,” Johnson said. “The problem is that there is, on occasion, inappropriate activity.”

Spearman said she’d be interested in seeing how added security on the lakefront works for one year before considering charging a usage fee to hire additional security.

Johnson said he’d like to make room in the service agency budget to hire a security firm to patrol the shore, to be in place by April.

“I’m of the opinion that if we can fix some of these problems by hiring a security guard, for $15,000 or $20,000, we don’t bother charging people to use the lake,” Johnson said.

Only two residents attended the meeting Wednesday night, for which the legal opinion was not an action item. 

The last time the lake’s private status was questioned, more than 100 people crowded into the Stansbury Clubhouse on Aug. 8, and gave more than two hours of public comment. Residents expressed concern about excessive trash, unruly youth, profane language and other concerns they believed would be exacerbated by public status. 

The outrage last August came regarding a proposed amendment to the service agency’s lake use policy, which would have removed specific references to the lake’s private status. 

 

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