A trial to determine the future of nearly half of Bluffdale's land area began Monday, with attorneys and witnesses recounting the events that led to landowners' attempts to break away from the city.

The trial, before 3rd District Judge Anthony Quinn, is scheduled to run through Thursday. It is a bench trial, meaning there is no jury and the outcome will be decided by Quinn.

The land, known as Area 4, is mostly owned by two developers who have been seeking to develop it for years. The landowners, South Farms and South Hills Development, want to build residential and commercial developments at densities higher than most of the rest of Bluffdale, which is made up largely of one-acre lots.

But in December 2003, when the City Council denied their application for a zoning change, the developers filed a disconnection lawsuit, seeking to de-annex the land. That land would then become part of unincorporated Salt Lake County or be annexed by nearby Herriman.

Bluffdale has since attempted to negotiate with the developers, creating a zoning category called the special development plan, or SDP, which could be applied to Area 4 and would allow the whole area to be master-planned at once. However, residents opposed to the development formed a group called Bluffdale United and began collecting signatures for a referendum to bring the SDP to a public vote.

Then, earlier this fall, the council voted to approve two consent decrees that included a development agreement with the developers. The consent decrees were brought before Quinn, with both the city and the developers asking him to accept the agreement and dismiss the suit.

But Quinn refused to accept the agreement, saying he was being asked to step into a political disagreement over land use when the lawsuit was solely about a proposed disconnection.

Then, in a last-ditch attempt to appease the developers in December, the council denied a zoning change that would have applied the city's mixed-use (MU) zone to parts of Area 4. That zoning change was defeated on a contentious 3-2 vote.

E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com