Planning Commission denies plan to turn the former Colby School into a bed-and-breakfast

The former Colby School property on S.R. 224.
Park Record file photo

A Victorian-style mansion sitting just east of S.R. 224 will apparently sit empty for at least a little while longer after the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission Tuesday denied an application to turn the former Colby School into a bed-and-breakfast, declining the latest attempt to use the site for a commercial purpose since it closed its doors as a school in 2008.

Representatives of the property owners, who have sued the county over a previous ruling, indicated they would likely appeal this one.

The decision to deny the proposal for an eight-room bed-and-breakfast hinged on what, exactly, it means to be “owner occupied.” The commission voted 6-1, with Commissioner Crystal Simons in dissent, that the applicants failed to meet the standard that the business would be owner occupied. County staff, however, had recommended that the conditional use permit application be approved.

Bed-and-breakfasts are allowed in the site’s current zoning, with the development code defining one as “an owner occupied residence in which up to eight (8) rooms are rented for overnight lodging to travelers.” The code does not, however, define what owner-occupied means, setting up a potential legal fight.

Commissioners had joked in previous meetings about knocking on the door and a stack of papers answering, referencing the question of whether a limited liability corporation like the one that owns the property could occupy the location as a residence.

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The idea of requiring the owner live on site, commissioners have said, is that a person who lives in the neighborhood would have greater stake in being respectful to neighbors and heeding their concerns, something neighbors have claimed did not always happen when the property functioned as a business under previous ownership.

That issue has been debated in at least three meetings, but the idea to turn the former school into some sort of hotel has been in front of the county since 2015. Hoffvest LLC bought the site in 2014 and the next year applied to build a 55-room hotel there. In the intervening years, the project has been significantly whittled down to the current eight-room design with one room for a caretaker, the biggest bed-and-breakfast allowed by the code.

During the debate over the latest application, the Planning Commission declined to define the term owner occupied, leaving the applicants to come up with an amenable solution. The owners suggested giving a live-in caretaker a 1% to 10% ownership stake in the LLC that owns the property.

Commissioners weren’t comfortable with this arrangement, calling the setup akin to an employee-employer relationship rather than that of an owner letting rooms of his or her personal home to travelers. They pointed out that if the caretaker were fired, the ownership stake would likely be revoked.

The county code defines an occupant as any person who occupies the whole or any part of a building, and it further makes clear that an LLC is considered a person.

Commissioner Canice Harte said his understanding of the term owner-occupied resembled what it would mean if he converted his home to a bed-and-breakfast and rented out a few rooms.

The property is on the east side of S.R. 224 near the entrance to the Canyons Village base area of Park City Mountain Resort. It includes a large Victorian-style home as well as a few outbuildings, one of which is home to a pilates studio. The site functioned for years as a small hotel starting in the mid-1980s but has sat dormant and been the subject of community outcry when developers have sought to use it as a hotel.

The applicants have said it would likely host events like weddings, as other bed-and-breakfasts do, and that they would work with the county to lessen the effects on neighbors like parking, noise and light.

Emma Worsley, the registered agent of the LLC, also opened Harvest, a restaurant near Main Street, and commissioners indicated they were confident in the quality of any potential bed-and-breakfast she would run.

An attorney for the applicant said there are LLCs in neighborhoods surrounding the former school that own residences and rent them out on nightly rental sites like VRBO. The attorney said it was absurd to impose different restrictions on owner occupants than what is found in the code.

An attorney for neighbors opposed to the development said the applicants need to accept that the county has said there will not be an expansion of commercial uses at the site and should stop trying to convert the property into a hotel or bed-and-breakfast.

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