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Developers pushing to create town in Ogden Valley

HUNTSVILLE, Weber County — Red octagonal signs that read "Stop Powder Mountain Town" are frozen into towering drifts of snow in yards throughout Ogden Valley and Ogden Canyon.

Next door to the community's only grocer, a banner reading "Help Rescue the Powder Mountain Captives" hangs on the custom-built railing of Eden Coffee and Cocoa Co.

Sentiment is clear in the sleepy, rural valley, but developers who would make a town out of Powder Mountain ski resort — and add thousands of condos and new visitors to it — are pushing forward.

"This whole saga going on, it seems never-ending," said Larry Zini, a valley resident who's been recruited to help residents raise money for legal fees. "It's a company town in the worst sense of the word."

A bill that would allow residents of Powder Mountain to vote on their town council and mayor is being held up on Capitol Hill despite hard lobbying by the local state representative and support from county officials.

At issue is a controversial law that allows developers to create towns and approve elected officials without building consensus from residents.

That rule, passed at the last minute in 2007, has since been repealed. But when the Legislature annulled it, it didn't make the change retroactive. More than two years later, about 100 people in the corner of Ogden Valley still can't vote on their town leadership.

At the same time, the would-be developers and incorporators of the town have not been able to swear in a council or mayor, enact any laws or levy taxes.

Both groups have brought legal action against the Weber County Commission, which has refused to appoint officials from a developer-approved list.

"We feel like we're trapped," said Jim Haley, one of the proposed town's residents and the owner of nearby Alpine Pizza. "If the developers came to us and offered to allow us to vote, it would be different. We were railroaded into this. We're stuck with an archaic law."

HB218, sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, would allow the incorporation of Powder Mountain but would let the residents petition the district court for the right to vote. The legislation passed through the House and is waiting to be assigned to a Senate panel, even though it was ready long before the session started.

Three out-of-town developers tried to incorporate Powder Mountain in January 2008 while discussions about changing the 2007 law already were under way. That effort came after the Weber County Planning Commission told the developers they could build only about half the 2,200 units they wanted at the resort.

Now, the group of developers is being represented by lobbyist and former House Speaker Greg Curtis.

Since the incorporation was filed, petitioner Lee Daniels has left the country to serve a religious mission. Daniels' interests are being tended by Pronaia Capital Ltd.

"We were simply trying to put the mayor and the town council in place as permitted under the statute," explained Pronaia partner Joseph Pierce. "We don't really think it's fair several years after the fact to change the rules."

But changing the rules to allow a basic right like voting is only fair, according to many town residents.

"We do not want a town at all," said Marv Knudtson, who fought in the Navy from 1950-54. "This is Eden. It's our home. We don't want to be taxed without representation. We want to be able to represent ourselves."

Because the 2007 law has been changed, Froerer's legislation applies only to Powder Mountain. The bill could be annulled if the Weber County Commission, the developers and a group of residents that sued the county agree to a settlement first.

For Haley, though, the developers are "just greedy."

"A developer comes in. He buys land, plus the existing development rights. But he keeps asking for more and more with nothing in return," he said. "He's trying to negotiate for more free things by giving us our rights back."

Ogden Valley resident Steve Clarke agrees, pointing out that the county could be tempted to give Powder Mountain development rights it doesn't deserve in exchange for dropping the incorporation petition.

"That puts a stick in my craw," Clarke said.