May 6 could be D-Day.
Hundreds of angry residents are expected to descend on the Provo City Center Wednesday for what might be the ultimate battle with beleaguered developers of a proposed housing project on the Seven Peaks Golf Course.Then again, a May 1 letter from the Utah Attorney General's Office might turn the 5:30 p.m. meeting into a dud. It asks the city to delay any action on the proposal until it reviews on May 12 how the Seven Peaks property moved from public to private hands some 20 years ago.
The council intends to meet anyway but could quickly diffuse any fireworks with a vote to postpone the meeting. Or it could opt to simply discuss the issue. Or it could make a decision on the project despite the letter.
The city administration has been largely silent on the matter, but Bob Stockwell, chief administrative officer, said it's time for a resolution.
"I think what the council has to do is make a policy decision. Does it want development up there or not?" he said.
At issue is whether Brent and Scott McQuarrie should be allowed to build 300 housing units on nine holes of the golf course they own in east Provo. The McQuarries bought the 117-acres in at a state auction four years ago intending to build 494 homes. They have redrawn the plan and reduced the number of residences dozens of times to appease residents and city officials.
"We aren't outsiders coming into this community to trash it. My partners and I live here. This is our town," said Brent McQuarrie.
Some residents, however, see the developers as intruders on one of the largest undeveloped tracts in Provo. They believe the formerly publicly owned ground was intended to remain free from development even though it's now private property.
"Most of us don't see any benefit or purpose to the neighborhood," said Bonnie Callis, one of the project's most ardent critics. "What irks everyone is that this was state hospital land."
Provo obtained the property from the state in 1978 to sell to a firm that intended to build a ski resort in the mountains overlooking the city. A "reversion" clause in the agreement called for the land to be returned for public use should the resort not be built. It wasn't, but the property has changed hands several times since then.
"There is an actual group ready to file a class-action lawsuit because we feel there has been a lot of irresponsibility and irregularity," Callis said.
The state insurance commission seized the property from an insurance company that didn't have cash or assets to pay off claims. The state put the land up for sale apparently unaware of any reversion clause. The McQuarries bought it in 1994 without any liens or restrictions.
Nevertheless, assistant attorney general Brian Farr informed the city Friday that he intends to look into the 20-year-old land transfer, as well as residents' complaints about rezoning the property for the Seven Peaks project.
Callis said the city needs open space and parks.
"Where is Provo's community vision for the future? Provo has filled the need for apartments. We don't need apartments," she said.
McQuarrie counters that the Villages at Seven Peaks won't be apartments or a "high density" housing development. He's asking that half of it be zoned for single-family homes, while the remainder would be split between eight-plexes, six-plexes and twin homes. The 51-acre project will total about seven units per acre compared to 12 units an acre on a neighboring development. The McQuarries say they're trying to fill a need for various types of housing in burgeoning Provo.
Residents argue that the new homes will flood Provo's already busy east-side streets with additional traffic, a point McQuarrie concedes. However, he said it won't be as congested as residents are claiming and that Seven Peaks will pay for traffic-control measures.
Callis helped obtain some 1,100 signatures on a petition opposing the project. She'd like to collect enough for a referendum on whether to rezone the Seven Peaks property. But ideally, Callis wants to propose on a ballot that Provo buy the property and preserve it.
Stockwell, Provo's chief administrative officer, said the city has not seriously discussed purchasing the land, which would undoubtedly be pricey. Seven Peaks' land and development costs exceed $4 million, McQuarrie said.
Seven Peaks also is offering to donate 52 acres of mostly hillside property to the city to leave as open space or develop into a park. The catch is that the city must take it within six months.
Stockwell said the city wants the housing project to be substantially built, which could take six to seven years, before making that decision.
"We have bent over backwards to make the city and the neighborhood happy with this project," McQuarrie said.
Seven Peaks doesn't intend to make any more substantial changes to it project.
"We'll still continue to address concerns, but this is the last shot at it," McQuarrie said. "We've gone as far as we can go."