Victory for Tooele Residents
We were thrilled to see Tooele residents, who had consulted with us, have a resounding victory in court to keep a gravel pit out of their neighborhood. This battle was fought and won by Tooele residents who wanted to protect the place they live, and sends an important message to all of us: never assume that the people can’t win!
The Salt Lake Tribune covered the story:
A 3rd District Court judge has ruled the Tooele County Commission acted illegally in signing a 2018 land-use agreement allowing a nonconforming gravel company to operate near a residential subdivision.
The decision is a win for neighbors in the South Rim community near Stockton, who had challenged the legality of the agreement. And it comes at a time when gravel operations have become a growing controversy along the expanding Wasatch Front as residential areas have pressed up against them.
“You’ve got to give the homeowners credit for ponying up money to fight the county on this,” said Adam Affleck, the plaintiffs’ attorney, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “I mean, usually this would be something that would just happen and nobody has enough money to challenge it so it just goes by the wayside.”
The decision, he said, effectively means “the gravel pit is no more.”
Tooele County had entered into a land use agreement with Southside Gravel, LLC. in 2018 amid the prospect of pending litigation. The 25-year agreement allowed the company to conduct commercial gravel operations on its entire 176-acre parcel — even though the zoning of the area didn’t match that use.
The contract, which the Tooele County Commission approved with a 2-1 vote, came after a series of private negotiations with Southside, the ruling notes. Those conversations, Judge Dianna Gibson said in her written ruling last week, effectively “eliminated due process for both concerned citizens and the homeowners.” And because the decision was made through contract, and not by ordinance, it prevented residents from challenging the decision through a local referendum.
The county had entered into the agreement to resolve an impending lawsuit. But it soon found itself embroiled in a separate court battle after a group of homeowners in the South Rim subdivision decided to file suit.
They pooled their money to take the case to court and sought a judgment that the county had engaged in illegal contract zoning and violated their due process rights by entering into the agreement with Southside.
“Obviously there are laws and processes put in place to have order and to protect citizens and in this particular case, it was obvious that those were being bypassed to benefit an individual,” said Scott Hunter, one of two residents who were listed as the primary plaintiffs in the case. “And it was just mind-blowing that that could even occur. And I guess at the end of the day, we knew right was right and we were willing to band together to do what was right.”
Affleck said the homeowners were also motivated by the environmental and health challenges that come with having a gravel pit operation in a community.
“Instead of having a great view out your front door you have the view of a gravel pit operation and trucks going by and all of the problems that come with that,” he said. “The homeowners were very concerned because they perceived their property values as going down substantially if that gravel pit got underway.”