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Developer may 'disconnect' controversial project from Cottonwood Heights

Published: Tuesday, May 31 2011 7:49 p.m. MDT

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — The developer behind a contested project at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon may disconnect from Cottonwood Heights because he's been unable to win new zoning approval.

Developer Terry Diehl has been pushing for several years to allow him to build a resort called Tavaci at the base of the canyon.

Now, it appears Diehl may be looking to take the project out of the city altogether.

"My clients are interested in actually the city following through with a proposal the city began almost two years ago to allow a reasonable development on that project," said Bruce Baird, an attorney for Diehl. "That's our first choice."

Asked if the developer is considering a disconnect — pulling the land and project out of the city — Baird replied, "You never want to take any options off the table."

Originally, the Tavaci project was zoned for large, single-family homes. When Diehl pushed Cottonwood Heights in 2009 to change the zoning to allow a high-end resort, hotel, condos, retail space and restaurants, a coalition of dozens of neighbors spoke out.

Since then, the rezone has been on hold.

Diehl wants an answer.

"We would like the city to vote on the planning commission's unanimous recommendation" to OK the rezone, Baird said. "We'll see what happens after that."

If Tavaci were to disconnect from Cottonwood Heights, it would again become part of unincorporated Salt Lake County. A spokesman for the county said they have not received a formal request for such a move.

Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said the city has tried to find common ground with Diehl over Tavaci, but it's been difficult.

"I would assume that there would be some strategic reason they would like to go back into the county," Cullimore said. "I don't personally believe there's necessarily an advantage from a zoning perspective for that. The county has their zoning ordinances just like we do."

A vocal opponent of the rezone says he thinks Diehl aims to intimidate the city into approving the rezone.

"That would be absolutely a reasonable person's conclusion," said Roger Kehr, a resident of Cottonwood Heights and member of the group CH Voters. "In this case, the city has absolutely bent over backwards for Terry, and that's not enough for him."

Last month, Diehl's attorneys filed an voluminous records request for all documents related to the project and 24 other items. The request also seeks records that include the names of project opponents, including Kehr, Will McCarvill, Brian Moench, a physician who helps lead Utah Physicians for a Health Environment, and former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson.

The attorneys also asked for a copy of the city's entire public file, its "P" drive, a request that totals 38,000 documents.

"We haven't had a request that large," said Cullimore, who noted city officials are working with the attorneys to narrow the request to better fulfill it.

Critics believe it may be a prelude to litigation, while Diehl's attorney says they are merely trying to gather the facts.

"The GRAMA (government records) request is to get the documents related to why this petition sort of got held up for a while, why it happened and why it hasn't been acted upon," said Baird. "We have reason to believe that those names have been associated with the anti-development efforts here, and we'd like to see what those emails are."

"I interpret it as an attempt to intimidate anyone who has opposed Diehl in the past," Moench said. "I think he is used to bullying his way into getting whatever he wants. That's how I would interpret this."

Diehl, his attorneys and city officials plan to meet Thursday to further discuss the situation.

Email: jdaley@desnews.com

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