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Big Cottonwood road gets go-ahead

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Critics of a proposed road at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon have repeatedly set up roadblocks, but developers received a green light from the court Thursday.

The 3rd District Court ruled in favor of Salt Lake County and development company Wasatch Pacific in a suit filed by the environmental group Save Our Canyons over the road. Save Our Canyons and several Cottonwood Heights residents filed the lawsuit in July 2003, asking the court to stop construction of the road and to void three variances the county granted for the road on grounds that they violated county ordinances.

The three variances, which were requested by Wasatch Pacific owner Terry Diehl, were unanimously approved by the county's Board of Adjustment in June 2003.

Judge Tyrone Medley, in a conference call oral decision, ruled the county did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in its board decision.

The plans for the road include two horseshoe turns and a 30-foot bridge to cross steep slopes. Privately maintained, the road would be accessible only by residents of the multimillion-dollar housing development proposed to be built on a plateau on the north side of the canyon mouth.

The lawsuit contended that the county violated the Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone in granting the variances.

The ruling, described as an "obvious disappointment" by Save Our Canyons members, was expected to be appealed. Save Our Canyons' attorney Joe Tesch was out of town Thursday, but after his return, the group will meet with Tesch and community members to discuss appealing.

Save Our Canyons, a small, nonprofit organization, raised more than $23,000 from community members for the lawsuit. More money would have to be raised if the group decides to appeal.

"(The ruling) kind of blows you away, but you know how much people care about an issue when they are willing to put up their own money," said Lisa Smith, Save Our Canyons executive director.

Save Our Canyons has another lawsuit with the county regarding a rock quarry in Parleys Canyon.

"It's tough because sometimes litigation is the only option you are left with," Smith said. "We definitely don't go into litigation lightly."

As of Thursday, Smith said the few community members she had spoken to about the ruling "were in disbelief." They are "still hoping for a miracle," Smith said.

"The county has these ordinances set up, but they just don't show a commitment to follow them," Smith said. "The community is concerned with the county following their own rules. People feel it's hard to trust the county to do the right thing."

The variances are needed to cross slopes of 30 and 50 percent along 40 percent of the road and cross slopes of more than 50 percent along almost 15 percent of the road.

In addition to the broken ordinances, Save Our Canyons opposes the 2,582-foot-long bridge because of the damage to plant and wildlife, snow removal problems, the aesthetic image and safety issues.

Save Our Canyons and other critics suspect Mayor Nancy Workman and Councilman Randy Horiuchi of working "behind the scenes" to influence board members — an issue that will most likely be brought up in the appeal, Smith said.

The original road design, brought to the board in fall 2002 by Diehl, requested 14 variances to the overlay zone. The board originally approved the variances but later reversed the decision.

Diehl and county members were unavailable for comment.

E-mail: AStowell@desnews.com