Lionsback Plan Map (2016)

A proposed site plan for the Lionsback Resort along Sand Flats Road, from a SITLA presentation to the Moab City Council in December 2016. [Moab Sun News file image]

A deal to create a 150-room hotel and resort adjacent to the Sand Flats Recreation Area may be taken up by the Utah Supreme Court, after a lower court ruled the contract violated Moab’s own laws to avoid public hearings on the development.

The Jan. 25 ruling by the Utah Court of Appeals concluded that an agreement entered into by the City of Moab, state officials and developers working on the Lionsback Resort violated both Utah State law and Moab municipal code.

In 2016, the City, SITLA and the development firm LB Moab Land Company, LLC, drafted a zoning agreement which would consider changes to the originally approved plan as “minor” in exchange for remaining under Moab’s jurisdiction and other concessions. This classification would allow the plan to avoid a series of public hearings that would be required for “major” changes.

Changes to the plans include increasing the number of hotel rooms from 50 to 150, adding additional parking and other alterations.

The agreement was adopted by the City Council in February 2017 and was challenged in court shortly thereafter by a citizens group consisting of Lucy Wallingford, Kiley Miller, John Rzeczycki, Carol Mayer, David Bodner, Meeche Bodner, Sarah Stock, Josephine Kovash and Living Rivers, a Moab-based environmental organization.

[Editor’s note: Moab Sun News Co-Publisher Heila Ershadi was on the City Council at the time and voted for the agreement. She did not participate in reporting on this story.]

The citizen group’s original legal challenge alleges that Moab city officials classified the changes as minor “in order to appease SITLA and LB Moab, but not based on an actual review of whether the amendments were in fact ‘minor changes’ or based on substantial evidence.” The Court of Appeals ruling agreed.

The group’s attorney, Dan McDonald, reported that after legal briefs are filed in the case, the Utah Supreme Court will decide whether to become involved in the case.

If they do, “the process could take the rest of the year to complete depending upon the court's briefing schedules, extensions, when oral argument is scheduled, etc.,” McDonald said in a statement.