BLUFFDALE — The protracted battle over a planned development in this rural hamlet is playing out not only in city politics but also in the courts, and on Wednesday a judge told the city and developers he wasn't ready to sign off on their recent agreement.

Third District Judge Anthony Quinn had been asked to approve a settlement agreement approved 4-1 by the City Council on Tuesday, but after a citizens' group attempted to intervene, the judge said he still has some legal questions about the agreement's legality.

"I don't want to be rushed into making a decision I'm not comfortable with," he said. "Do I have the right to dictate the course of development" that would normally be determined by a public zoning process?

So Quinn put the issue on hold until a Nov. 10 hearing, asking the attorneys for the city, the developers and the citizens' group, Bluffdale United, to file briefs in the meantime addressing that question.

The issue was in the courts because landowners in Area 4, about 4,000 acres on Bluffdale's southwest corner, were seeking to disconnect from Bluffdale and join nearby Herriman after a December 2003 council decision that denied their application for a zoning change.

After the suit was filed, the council created the so-called special development plan, a zoning category that would have allowed the city to deal with the 4,000 acres as a large parcel and begin negotiating with the developers accordingly. Residents opposed to the development formed Bluffdale United and started a petition drive to get the SDP on the ballot.

Now, with enough signatures gathered, they say that referendum was sidestepped by Tuesday's vote. So on Wednesday they filed a new referendum petition, this time calling for a public vote on the settlement's consent decrees, which would clear the way for the development if the developers build the infrastructure at no cost to the city.

The opposition is tied closely to November's municipal election. Among the group's members are mayoral candidate Claudia Anderson and two City Council candidates, Nancy Lord and Bill Maxwell. Their slogan: "Keep Bluffdale Rural."

The issue was largely responsible for drawing Bluffdale's unusually large voter turnout in October's primary — roughly 36 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Anderson and Mayor Wayne Mortimer both advanced to the general election, though Anderson picked up 587 votes to Mortimer's 250. Similarly in the City Council race, incumbents Morris Clark will be in the general election, as will Maxwell and Lord, who received more than twice as many votes as Clark. The fourth candidate will be John C. Roberts, who took fourth place in the primary.

Mortimer said the months of negotiations with the developer and the resulting settlement agreement are vital in the city's fight against the disconnect, which would result in Bluffdale losing about 40 percent of its land mass to nearby Herriman. He said the alternative is for the courts to decide the fate of Area 4 — and a disconnect would probably mean the development would go on anyway, with Herriman reaping the property and sales tax benefits. He questioned the way it is playing out in the election campaign.

"It was kind of an unfair issue because you're not going on issues of whether one candidate would be better for the city than the other or on their management styles," he told the Deseret Morning News. "You're doing it on an issue that is in the courts that is ultimately going to be decided by a judge."

But Anderson said it should be a factor in the election.

"I think it was a bad, bad decision by the mayor and the City Council," Anderson said. "It gives this developer carte blanche with 4,000 acres without any citizen input, without any Planning Commission input."

She also accused Mortimer and his supporters of using scare tactics by saying that if Anderson is elected Area 4 will be lost to Herriman. That, she said, is not true. Bluffdale United is opposed to disconnection and believes the public process can prevent the high-density development without causing the city to lose 4,000 acres.