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A 3rd District judge says Salt Lake County had substantial evidence to justify approving a road to link a planned luxury subdivision to the entrance of Big Cottonwood Canyon

On Thursday, Judge Tyrone E. Medley upheld the county Board of Adjustment's blessing on the proposed road, noting that the environmental group Save Our Canyons did not prove in its suit that the board erred in its decision.

"The fact that there is disputed or conflicting evidence - that by itself does not equal a lack of substantial evidence," Medley said in a conference call to the attorneys. "It just appears from this court's review that the decision of the board is reasonable, rational, based upon substantial evidence and not illegal."

Wasatch Pacific owner Terry Diehl, who plans to build the road, said Medley's ruling vindicated what he had said all along: The road's approval is legal and justified.

"I'm not surprised," Diehl said. "It's the correct ruling."

Medley's decision was a blow to Save Our Canyons and 10 neighbors of the proposed project, who sued the county to stop the road that they say will scar the canyon entrance. The Wasatch Front environmental group, with nearly 1,000 members, fought the proposal throughout the planning process.

SOC board member Tom Stephens says the group "will look hard at whether or not to appeal," but the group needs to talk with its attorneys and the other plaintiffs - most of whom are neighbors of Diehl, who lives across the street from the planned development.

"Today's ruling is obviously a disappointment to us," Stephens said.

The proposed road's design probably will be unlike any other in the state. It incorporates two bridges to elevate the roadway and avoid making deep hillside cuts. Diehl says the road will cost $3.4 million.

SOC objects to the road, mainly because it will cross slopes of more than 30 percent for 1,100 feet and a slope of more than 50 percent for 380 feet.

Diehl argues the new design is better than a previous one that gained, and later lost, county approval. That plan, though $2 million less costly, included deep cuts and fills, and would have created a steep road to the housing development.

Both plans would have been forbidden under the county's Foothill and Overlay Zone ordinances without variances granted by the Board of Adjustment.

Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman said from what she has seen of the proposal, the road will create a "beautiful entrance" to the canyon, not scar it.

"In the end, it's going to be pretty nice," she said, noting the county had to abide by strict guidelines to grant approval.

A housing development on the foothill shelf just outside the canyon entrance has been proposed several times since the early 1990s. Another developer, The Boyer Co., tried to build the subdivision and road there in 1993. The county granted approval, but the road was never built.

Diehl's attorney, Richard Burbidge, says there was more than enough evidence to warrant the road's approval.

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