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Cottonwood Heights Journal

City’s planning commission considers lot consolidation near Deaf Smith Canyon

Apr 08, 2024 01:25PM ● By Cassie Goff

The yellow parcel of 0.60 acres, orange parcel of 0.51 acres, and blue parcel of 0.57 acres will be combined into one 1.68-acre lot. (Mike Johnson/Cottonwood Heights)

A subdivision amendment request to consolidate three half-acre lots into one 1.68-acre lot along Golden Hills Canyon Road sparked residents to show up in droves to the Cottonwood Heights Planning Commission meeting on March 6. 

Property owners Kade and Kalli Huntsman issued the request as their desire is to construct one single-family home on the consolidated lot (currently estimated to be about 5,000 square feet). The three lots in question are part of an existing eight-lot subdivision which borders access to Deaf Smith Canyon.

“We’ve been hiking that since 1983 as Boy Scouts pretty much consistently,” said Commissioner Dan Poulson. 

With numerous similar recounts from residents accessing trails in Deaf Smith Canyon through the Golden Hills neighborhood, residents are concerned about the possibility of being cut off from access to that open space. 

“According to the City Attorney, an individual who has been utilizing a trail over private property could make a claim for a perspective easement, but it would need to be an individual doing that on their own,” said Senior Planner Samantha DeSeelhorst. 

However, there is currently no public access to Deaf Smith Canyon. Trail access to Deaf Smith Canyon through the Golden Hills neighborhood is technically along private property. 

“With Deaf Smith Canyon, you have very very illegal access,” said Commissioner Sean Steinman. 

The original plat designations for the eight-lot subdivision can be traced back to being recorded in 1970.  With those plat designations, the three distinct lots do have entitlements to be developed. 

“There is potential here for development of three homes, if these lots are not consolidated,” said Community and Economic Development Director Mike Johnson. 

As open space, trail connectivity, and access to the canyons are of concern to many, residents have continually voiced their concerns over the possibility of overdevelopment in the current open space and limiting access into the bordering canyons and trails if the lots were to be consolidated. 

“I do not want to cut off access for anybody,” said property owner Kade Huntsman. “This a very sacred piece of property and we’re trying not to destroy it.”

Johnson mentioned that debris flow, landslide, slope stability, rock fall, and riparian site-scoping had been previously ongoing since 2022, before the property owners had a full plan for how they wanted to use the property. 

“There have been some pretty extensive studies and land disturbances up there, some clearing of vegetation in order to dig test pits…so we can identify the impact of these hazards to mitigate and safety develop around them,” Johnson said. 

As part of the application process, Kade and Kalli Huntsman proposed dedicating the northern portion of lot 8 to the city for the purpose of future trail alignment running through the parcel and trail connections out from the parcel. They have also offered to pay to continue the trail that connects Deaf Smith Canyon to Willow Creek Canyon with a bridge over the water way. 

“I do want to emphasize….It’s not development or no development. It’s approval of three lots into one… or denial, which results in no public trail easement and the potential to see three lots built,” Johnson said. 

During the public hearing for Project SUB-24-001, the Planning Commission heard from residents about their concerns for over an hour. 

“We encourage the staff to work with the Forest Service on the alignment with the Bonneville Shoreline Trail,” said Parks, Trails, and Open Space Committee Member Melissa Fields, mentioning that the easement should be conserved in perpetuity as well. 

Attorney Anaya Gayle, representing resident Christine Mikell, strongly disagreed with city staff’s summary of the area’s history. “We request that the Planning Commission do the reasonable thing and table this matter to discuss the right of access to the canyon for residents and neighbors to make a formal claim for perspective claims.” 

“The surveying that has already happened is preposterous as they have damaged the area with those efforts,” said neighbor Shannon Cogrun. 

Brenna Wygal, an eighth-grade resident, commented, “When we…kids...persevere and fulfill our need for recreation and find a trail to hike, there are adults that prohibit access to open space and trial areas, and we find ourselves barred from nature, exercise, new experiences and a form of autonomy that we cannot find in our day to day lives. I will add my voice to the crowd and ask for access to Deaf Smith Trailhead to be provided for all the kids.” 

“We don’t usually clap, but we will clap for everyone under 16 who comes to the microphone,” responded Planning Commission Chair Dan Mills.   

After hearing from the public, the Planning Commission regrouped to consider the applicant request. 

“Getting three homes built there is a bigger worry to me,” Steinman said. 

“Our goal is lot consolidation. I think we want to keep that in mind,” said Planning Commission Vice Chair Lucy Anderson.  

“We are a property rights state,” Mills said. “Consolation is a separate issue than the trail issue.” 

“Our burden is meeting the legal requirement. There’s nothing per law that allows us to take away the rights,” said Commissioner Mike Shelton. 

After 70 minutes of discussion with various conflicting amended motions on the table, the Planning Commission returned back to the main motion with Commissioner Smith moving to “approve project SUB-24-001 based on the findings and recommendations listed in the staff report on March 6, 2024.” 

Commissioner Dan Poulson seconded the motion. The motion ultimately passed with only Commissioner Jonathan Ebbeler voting no. 

In order to continue moving forward for the potential of getting approval for construction on the lot, the applicants will need to get approval from the surrounding entities. Those include the irrigation companies that have easements running through the area, the U.S. Forest Service (as they own the land bordering the lot), Salt Lake County Flood Control, the State of Utah, and the Fire Service (which has granted preliminary approval with two conditions). 

Johnson estimates that this process could take months with so many regulatory agencies outside of the city involved. 

“Assuming all technical items get addressed, then the applicants can move to finalize the plat where three county parcels become one,” Johnson said. “Final site construction plans are the very last step.” λ