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Herriman in, Bluffdale out in land fight

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Deseret Morning News graphic

BLUFFDALE — Herriman is about to get bigger, at Bluffdale's expense.

The Utah Supreme Court on Friday gave developers who own about 4,000 acres of undeveloped land in Bluffdale the go-ahead to cut ties with the city and become part of neighboring Herriman, a city more amenable to their plans for the land.

At a news conference held at the Rosecrest development bordering the contested land, executives of the Sorenson Group applauded the court's decision.

"We think that this is a victory for the property rights of individual landowners in Utah," said Sorenson Group's chief executive officer Jim Sorenson.

The land, which is in southwest Bluffdale and makes up about 40 percent of that city's land area, has been in dispute for years as landowners, including the Sorenson Group, have sought to extend Herriman's high-density Rosecrest neighborhood into Bluffdale.

Bluffdale city leaders opposed the development, hoping to maintain the city's rural tradition that has favored lots of an acre or larger.

In a statement following Friday's ruling, Bluffdale Mayor Claudia Anderson said the developers had tried to "bully" Bluffdale into allowing the higher-density housing, which conflicted with the city's "rural lifestyle and community values."

"The mixed-use development proposed by those disconnecting from Bluffdale was contrary to Bluffdale's policy of encouraging large-lot development with animal rights," Anderson said. "Consequently, it may be best for everyone that the proposed development be part of a different community."

The developers took their fight to Utah's 3rd District Court in December 2003, seeking to have their land disconnected from Bluffdale so it could be annexed into Herriman. The court ruled in favor of the developers, and Bluffdale officials appealed to the Supreme Court.

The high court's 5-0 opinion ruled that the disconnection is viable and would not significantly increase the cost of Bluffdale's municipal services. Disconnection, the justices ruled, "is an appropriate remedy."

The battle over the land has made Bluffdale a political battleground in recent years. Opponents of the development organized against former Bluffdale Mayor Wayne Mortimer and some City Council members in their 2005 re-election bids, accusing them of conceding too much to the developers.

Mortimer and the council members, for their part, argued that without compromise, the courts would give the land to Herriman and it would be developed without Bluffdale having any say in how. The issue led to Anderson handily defeating Mortimer at the polls.

Sorenson said Friday that the development his company will build will be better than what Bluffdale had planned because it will accommodate a variety of uses, including commercial and multi-family housing. Building denser housing allows more people to afford a home, he said.

The company can now begin the process of annexing the 4,000 acres into Herriman, which, according to state law, can't accept the land until Jan. 1 next year. Meanwhile, the land's owners will have to file with the lieutenant governor's office, which will convene a boundary commission to consider the request.

Any bordering municipality or landowner in the area will be able to bring objections to the commission during that time. If the commission approves the annexation, the county surveyor will then evaluate the new city border to ensure it is correct and legal. If the surveyor approves, the land will then become part of Herriman.

"This is probably the largest disconnection case in the history of the state of Utah," said Hollis Hunt, one of the company's attorneys. "It's going to have a serious impact on future disconnection cases."

E-mail: dfelix@desnews.com; dsmeath@desnews.com