A lawsuit claims Summit County fought Hideout annexation to squash competition for its own project
In the ongoing legal battle to decide the future of Richardson Flat, developers filed a counterclaim last month that accuses Summit County of suppressing their proposals because officials didn’t want competition for a development the county wants to build 3 miles up the road.
“Summit County is and at all times relevant was a de facto real estate developer competing in the market with other real estate developers,” the counterclaim states. It goes on to allege that the county is planning a giant development near Home Depot, just north of Hideout on U.S. 40, and acted to crush potential competition.
The county denies the allegations.
The claim was filed by attorneys representing an LLC controlled by Nate Brockbank, the developer who is seeking to build a large mixed-use project on 350 acres of Richardson Flat that Hideout recently annexed into its boundaries.
The lawsuit and counterclaim center on parcels just west of the land Hideout annexed that include the Richardson Flat park-and-ride lot and areas to the south. That land was included in an annexation proposal earlier this year but withdrawn after Park City indicated it would join the legal fight to stop it. In the county’s lawsuit that spurred the counterclaim, Summit County secured a preliminary injunction to prevent Brockbank and other entities from developing the land or consenting to its annexation.
The counterclaim seeks punitive damages for reasons including the lost profit that would be gained from developing that land. It accuses the county of unlawfully monopolizing the development market for its own gain by withholding permits and approvals, suing to stop the annexation and pressuring the state Legislature to repeal the law allowing the annexation.
The county has filed to dismiss the counterclaim, saying governmental bodies are immune from such claims.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher denied that the county is in the real estate development business.
“The county has never done any type of development that would compete with private developers,” Fisher said in an interview after the county’s response was filed late last month.
Summit County owns about 125 acres across from Home Depot known as the Gillmor parcel. Officials are planning to develop a portion of it, though only brief public discussions have occurred about how the land should be used.
Fisher said the county would have to follow the same steps as any other developer seeking to build in Summit County, starting with applying to rezone the land. No such steps have been taken, he and other officials have said.
Summit County’s budgets since at least 2018 have included money for land-use planning for land it owns. Determining how to “program” the Gillmor parcel has been discussed as a County Council priority each of the last two years, though no conclusions have been made.
Fisher indicated that process would include discussion at the County Council level, as well as hiring consultants to perform planning work.
Officials have contemplated using county land for strategic priorities like additional affordable housing or a public works facility.
Elected officials have discussed in public meetings using the county’s land and its borrowing power to build an affordable housing project.
But instead of a future bus barn or library, the counterclaim contends that the county wants to build a massive mixed-use development on the land, totaling some 1.2 million square feet of commercial and residential space and 1,500 residential units.
Fisher denied that the county wants to build anything of that size.
Documents obtained by The Park Record show a sizable project has at least been contemplated by county officials.
Fisher said those concept maps were created in the early stages of a planning process to show the scale of development it could support.
“We wanted to understand, in conjunction with a neighboring property owner that is planning to develop his property commercially, to understand what the road system was going to need or if there was close to the kind of capacity necessary,” Fisher said of the purpose of commissioning the concept maps.
In 2018, private developers submitted plans to build a mixed-use project across from Home Depot on parcel neighboring county-owned land.
Marketplace Commons, as the project was called, included 178 residential units and 98,000 square feet of potential restaurant, retail, office and live/work space. It was to be anchored by a 62,000-square-foot grocery store, which is roughly the size of the Smith’s Marketplace in Kimball Junction.
The concept maps prepared for Summit County show a mixed-use project stretching across both that land and the adjacent county-owned Gillmor parcel. The large-scale grocery store that was to anchor the private project is located on county-owned land on those maps, and not on the land owned by private developers.
That seems to suggest that Summit County officials have at least contemplated the concept of allowing county-owned land to be developed along with the neighboring parcel.
The maps were created by a consultant working for the adjoining landowner, and Fisher said the county partly financed the work.
Fisher denied that any serious planning has been done, calling the work extremely preliminary.
“It’s basically taking a list of needs that the county, whether it’s a strategic need around affordable housing or it’s a strategic need around senior amenities … (and) trying to understand whether the land can handle that or not,” Fisher said. “But knowing that there was an adjacent landowner that was also developing at the same time, it made sense to us as an adjacent landowner to talk to him about it.”
According to a preliminary schedule, a trial to evaluate the county’s lawsuit and the developer’s counterclaim could begin next fall.
Fisher indicated that the County Council’s decision whether to issue a bond and borrow money for building projects will likely determine how and when land including the Gillmor parcel is used. The council has discussed the issue and if it goes forward, Fisher said applications to rezone the land are at least a year away.
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