Johnson v. Weber County

May 20, 2013

Utah Court of Appeals

2013 UT App 121 (Click for full text of Opinion)

May 16, 2013

          The Utah Court of Appeals upheld a county’s determination that a private school serving students with specific needs met the county’s definition of “school,” and was thus a permitted use. 

          The case concerned a proposed private school, Green Valley Academy, which serves serves students with emotional, learning, or developmental disorders.  In its application for development approval, the school stated that it would be fully accredited, and that it would provide an educational curriculum for 46.5 hours per week.  The school would also provide counseling and therapy for students.  The school proposed a studetbody of 36 students, who would live at the school site.  Staff members would also live on-site, to supervise the students.

          Weber County’s definition of “school” in its zoning ordinance includes a “private educational institution having a curriculum similar to that ordinarily given in grades one through twelve in the public school system.”  The county’s planning commission determined that Green Valley satisfied this definition, even though its curriculum included counseling and therapy.  A group of neighboring residents appealed that determination to the county’s board of adjustment, which agreed with the planning commission’s interpretation that Green Valley was a school and was a permitted use. 

          The Court of Appeals upheld the decision, concluding that Green Valley met the county’s definition of school.  The Court cited a 1974 case from the Utah Supreme Court, Crist v. Bishop, (520 P.2d 196 (Utah 1974)), which held that as long as an instituion met the definition of “school,” addtional training or services does not change that basic characterization.  Since Green Valley’s stated focus was an educational curriculum, the additional services of counseling and therapy do not mean that it ceases to be a school. 

RETURN to Welcome Page