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Sandy rejects Bell Canyon condo appeal

A bitter battle over development at the base of Bell Canyon ended in another setback last week for a group of neighbors who oppose a 41-unit condominium project there.

The City Council voted 4-3 to reject those neighbors' appeal of a Sandy Planning Commission decision to grant a conditional-use permit for the 38-acre Boulders at Bell Canyon project.Six council members, including two who cast dissenting votes, agreed planning commissioners had not erred in approving the proposed project.

But concerns about the nearness of a proposed trail to neighboring homes, the number of condo units and their close proximity to each other split the council vote.

That divided decision clears the way for construction of pricey twin-home townhouses snuggled into the hillside at 10300 South on both sides of Wasatch Drive below Bell Canyon Reservoir.

But the city's handling of the condo project, which will include a trailhead with a parking lot and a new section of trail leading up Bell Canyon, was harshly criticized by a lawyer for neighboring property owners during a 21/2-hour appeal.

Attorney Bruce Baird accused the planning commission of creating "a secret subcommittee" that met in violation of state open meetings law to cut a deal with developers and city staff.

"They met with absolutely no input from my clients," said Baird, charging the entire approval process "has been unfairly biased" and will result in "an ungodly number of twin homes" in an upscale residential neighborhood.

Baird also railed about city parks and planning staff but stopped just short of accusing planning commissioners of collusion and charged Sandy has "a horrible conflict of interest" because it had an interest in the property that was sold to condo de-vel-op-ers last fall.

Those allegations drew sharp rebukes from several council members, who said the seven-member planning commission has the authority to establish fact-finding subcommittees as needed to look at complex issues.

The Utah Open Meetings Law applies to advisory bodies like planning commissions but can only be invoked in meetings where there is a quorum present. Since only three of the seven planning commissioners served on the subcommittee, there was no quorum.

"I don't feel it was done in secrecy in any way," said Councilwoman Linda Martinez-Saville, the council's liaison to the Planning Commission last year.

Tenney told Baird he was offended by the allegations, and Council Chairman Michael Edmonds challenged the attorney on several factual matters.

"I view this twin home development as very unique to our city," he added, "and it's anything but cookie-cutter."

Developer Greg Bell, who is working on the project with Raddon Brothers Construction, said initial plans for the project have been changed substantially to meet the demands of both the city and neighboring residents.

He took issue with Baird's characterization of the project as overly dense, noting the homes will be designed to mesh with the hillside environment and will cost about $300,000 to $375,000 each.

Bell said the project will be a planned-unit development, which will allow 2.3 units for each of the 18-plus acres that is developable.

Councilman Bryant Anderson contended 41 units is too many for that area and said the city needs to be more concerned about the impact of the trailhead and trail on existing home owners in the area.

But a motion by Anderson to eliminate four of the units, require a minimum of 24 feet between the two-unit buildings and mandate the trail had to be at lease 80 feet from existing neighbors' property lines died on a 2-5 vote.

"These homes are quite close together," the councilman warned, "and it will change the character of the neighborhood."

City officials say the trail is used by thousands of hikers annually and will improve access to the Lone Peak area.