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Public hearing on Tavaci development set for Wednesday

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — Members of the Salt Lake County Planning Commission toured the controversial Tavaci development Friday in advance of a public hearing next week on a proposal to rezone 47 acres now designated a gated community of upscale homes to a multi-use development that could include resort amenities.

At one point, plans for the high-density project included a hotel, retail space and possibly 300 condominium units. While no specific details of developer Terry Diehl's plans have been released, the zoning designation sought by Cottonwood Estates Development permits high-density residential and commercial uses. A resort hotel and a class C beer outlet, among other uses, could be permitted under a conditional-use permit. Building heights are limited to 100 feet, however.

A public hearing on the application will be conducted at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State. The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the County Council, which will ultimately decide whether to rezone the land.

Initially, the land was within the boundaries of unincorporated Salt Lake County. It became part of Cottonwood Heights when the city incorporated in 2005. Although the county had previously approved a half-acre residential zoning designation, Diehl sought a change from the city to rezone it to accommodate a resort-style development including condominiums, hotels, restaurants and retail space.

When the city put his application on hold, Diehl filed a lawsuit against the city seeking to disconnect the land, meaning it would revert to the control of Salt Lake County.

In September 2011, then-County Mayor Peter Corroon and five members of the County Council urged Cottonwood Heights officials in a letter to stand firm against Diehl's disincorporation petition.

"To allow developers to disconnect from a community because of an unfavorable zoning decision destroys the ability of local officials to shape their communities. As elected officials, we should stand united in our opposition to 'zone shopping' as a way to circumvent legitimate planning processes," a letter said. The letter was signed by four current members of the County Council, Jim Bradley, Richard Snelgrove, Arlyn Bradshaw and Max Burdick, Corroon and Councilwoman Janie Iwamoto, who did not seek re-election.

Instead of embarking in a legal battle that city officials estimated could cost as much as $750,000, Cottonwood Heights leaders signed a decree of disconnection.

Cottonwood Estates Development, through its attorney, Bruce Baird, is now asking county to rezone the land. Baird could not be reached for comment Friday. An outgoing telephone message said he would be out of the country until June 21.

Diehl, the majority land owner in the development, did not return a telephone message left at the number on the gate of the development.

Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, said his organization opposes the zoning change. When the developer sought to build a road in the planned residential development, "some 30 variances were granted (by the county) to allow construction of that road."

Under its current zoning designation, which requires minimum half-acre lots, the development included 43 homes.

''What could be approved is something upwards of 1,100 units, which are not single-family units, of course, but it would definitely be a significant increase in the amount of development to take place in one of the most prominent entrances to Big Cottonwood Canyon," Fisher said.

The Planning Commission hearing comes as a federal bankruptcy judge has approved a reorganization plan for Diehl's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. According to federal court records, Diehl sought relief for more than $41.7 million owed to banks, credit unions, developers, auto dealers and Las Vegas casinos. He filed for Chapter 11 protection last fall.

Salt Lake County planning director Rolen Yoshinaga said the Planning Commission will weigh technical aspects of the application to rezone the land. Diehl's financial issues are not part of those deliberations, he said.

Asked whether the long history of the Tavaci development entered the Planning Commission's decision to visit the site, Yoshinaga said field trips are common.

"They want to feel like they understand what the ground looks like and what it all means. It's very routine," he said.