Six Blue Bison v. Alpine City

August 17, 2023

Utah Court of Appeals

2023 UT App 89 (click for full text of opinion)

The Utah Court of Appeals upheld the City’s denial of a subdivision plat amendment to convert a private driveway to a public cul-de-sac with a non-public emergency access to proposed development in a neighboring city.

Blue Bison owns the Summit Pointe Subdivision located in Alpine City, on the border with Draper. Four parcels within the subdivision are connected with a long, private shared driveway extending from an existing public street, and which approaches the boundary line with Draper but ends in a hammerhead turnaround within Alpine. Blue Bison owns another proposed 415-unit development in Draper, and applied to Alpine to convert the private driveway into a “hybrid” public road that dead-ends in a cul-de-sac at the border with Draper, but contains a non-public connection to the Draper development for use by emergency vehicles only.

The Alpine City Council denied the application for three reasons: (1) the creation of one long road with only one public outlet was effectively a cul-de-sac that was longer than allowed by city code; (2) the emergency access road to Draper was not part of Alpine’s general plan; and (3) Alpine previously approved the subdivision with two access roads within Alpine, so the long access road with emergency access was not necessary for the property owner to enjoy full property rights afforded by Alpine ordinances. 

Blue Bison appealed the decision to the city land use appeals hearing officer, who, while expressing concern that there was “very little” technical discussion on the application or the three bases for denial, nevertheless concluded that, relying on Baker v. Park City, 2017 UT App 190, the Council had discretion to deny the application for any reason according to Utah Code section 10-9a-609, and the denial was proper. Blue Bison petitioned the district court for review, which upheld the decision, and Blue Bison appealed. The Court of Appeals found that Section 609 of LUDMA provides that the land use authority “may approve” a plat amendment if it finds “there is good cause for the” amendment. Since the word “may” is discretionary rather than mandatory, plat amendments do not enjoy a presumption of regularity with an expectation of approval. Moreover, municipalities necessarily have some discretion in determining what constitutes “good cause” for a plat amendment, as the term is not defined by LUDMA. The Court reasoned that if any of the city’s provided reasons are supported by substantial evidence, this will amount to “good cause” as an adequate basis for denial. The Court focused on the City’s second reason, that the emergency access road to Draper was not provided for as part of Alpine’s general plan, and that it was certainly within the City’s discretion to conclude that there was no good cause for converting a private driveway into a potential through road connecting to a neighboring city when that road was not explicitly provided for in the general plan. The Court therefore concluded that substantial evidence supported the Council’s good cause decision.