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SALT LAKE CITY — The legal battle over the former Cottonwood Mall site is headed for Utah's highest court.
A 3rd District Court judge issued a split ruling on the pending legal challenges regarding the proposed redevelopment plan of the old Cottonwood Mall acreage. Holladay city officials and developers appealed the rulings to the Utah Supreme Court.
In rendering his decision on Friday, Judge Richard McKelvie said that Holladay’s decision on the tax increment financing for the development of the vacant parcel was not subject to voter referendum, but the amended site plan for the project could be challenged and will appear on the ballot in November.
Both decisions, however, are being appealed to the Utah Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments for Sept. 21.
“We thank Judge McKelvie for hearing this matter so quickly and for taking decisive action that will allow this matter to move forward toward a final decision,” Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle said in a news release.
The ruling was handed down on the same day as the deadline for cities to submit ballot information to Salt Lake County. Holladay City Council members voted in August to conduct a special election in November, pending the outcome of current legal activities.
In response to the ruling, developers Clark Ivory, CEO of Ivory Homes, and Jeff Woodbury, senior vice president of Woodbury Corp., issued a joint statement commending the court's decision that will allow the case to move forward.
"(Judge McKelvie) upheld the Agreement to Develop Land critical for projects requiring challenging redevelopment. This will generate positive returns for the city of Holladay," the statement said. "As a state, we must come to terms with how we will best manage growth and development in the future. We will ask the Supreme Court to uphold the city’s approval of our Site Development Master Plan. Their decision will establish important precedent and impact property rights and the ability of mayors and city councils to carefully administer the long-term planning of their cities."
The Ivory Homes and Woodbury Corp. proposal, approved by the Holladay City Council in May, calls for a multi-use city center on the former site of the defunct Cottonwood Mall.
The development plans include 775 apartments, with a maximum height of 90 feet, or seven stories. The plan also includes up to 210 total residential units, including 79 single-family homes, 22 units of brownstone-style homes, 39 units described as "Creekside Manor" homes, and up to 40 retail shops and restaurants.
Opponents of the project claimed the development would create an uncharacteristically dense community and collected thousands of signatures in an effort to get a ballot referendum.
In response to the latest legal proceeding, Brett Stohlton with Unite for Holladay said the organization is hopeful the voters of Holladay will have a chance to "have their voices heard" on Election Day in November.
"We were disappointed that the city and developers both took the position of trying to prevent the people from voting," he said. "We're excited that the people will have an opportunity to vote on this."
Stohlton said the group is "pro-development" and would like to see something done to the 57-acre site, but there are some issues regarding how the project has been put together that gives some residents concerns about the long-term financial benefits to the city as well as the density that has been proposed.
"The agreement that has been struck is not a good one," he said. "We're giving a bunch of tax subsidies to two of the wealthiest developers in Utah and the city is really not getting that much in return. It feels like we're selling ourselves short and Holladay can do better."
He is optimistic about the upcoming review by the Utah high court and the chance for a referendum in the coming weeks.
A final decision from the Utah Supreme Court is expected by the end of the month.