The Utah Supreme Court recently decided Baker v. Carlson, 2018 UT 59, which considered a developer’s ongoing effort to build a mixed-use, part-residential and part-commercial development on the site of the long-defunct Cottonwood Mall located in Holladay, Utah. On November 28, 2018, the Supreme Court affirmed the Third District Court’s ruling that a voter referendum to block the development was valid. This ruling calls into question the certainty of investment-backed real estate decisions in Utah and thus could carry negative implications for the Utah construction and real estate development communities.
The Cottonwood Mall opened in the early 1960s, and for several decades was a popular regional shopping destination. But the mall fell on financial hard times in the mid-1990s, and since 2007 the 57-acre lot has sat vacant. Around that time, the owner of the lot made plans to redevelop it, and asked Holladay City to rezone the site to permit mixed uses. In response, the City rezoned the lot as Regional/Mixed-Use (R/M-U). The City also created a process to control the development of an R/M-U zone, requiring prospective builders to first submit a site development master plan—which sets forth guidelines for the overall development and design of the site—to the City for approval. After the City approves a master plan, the developer must enter into a development agreement with the City, giving the developer certain rights and addressing other development-related issues.