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A sport court: affordable housing?

Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

A group of attorneys who are currently suing Summit County in federal court claim the Summit County Commission recently determined that a basketball court, and several large homes in Jeremy Ranch and Pinebrook, qualify as affordable housing in the Snyderville Basin. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Disabled Rights Action Committee and Utah’s Coalition of La Raza sued Summit County last spring claiming the government has broken the law by not constructing enough housing for poorer people in the community. The lawsuit seeks $40 million in damages.

In October, in response to allegations that county officials broke state law by not adopting a plan for the development of affordable housing in the Basin, Summit County commissioners adopted a 21-page moderate-income housing plan.

But out of 1,838 housing units the document lists as affordable, 1,323 "fail to meet the criteria identified by the [county] for moderate income housing including some parcels that don’t even have any dwelling units constructed on them," states a motion filed against Summit County Friday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

"That’s not true," said Summit County deputy attorney David Thomas about the claim.

But attorney Bruce Baird, who filed the fair-housing lawsuit, countered, "[the plan] tells me that the Summit County Attorney’s Office is so desperate to not admit that they simply haven’t been doing a good job."

One of the moderately priced housing units on the county’s report is a lot in Jeremy Ranch with nothing but a sport court, he claims.

"Can somebody live on a sport court in a Park City winter?" Baird asked.

Baird blames Summit County deputy attorney David Thomas for the alleged misrepresentations in the report. Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer said Planning Director Michael Barille prepared the document with Phyllis Robinson, an affordable-housing advocate at Park City Municipal.

Robinson claims in a court affidavit that Summit County currently has more than 1,700 units of affordable housing, a court document states.

Baird has asked a federal judge to disallow the county’s report because the document is "misleading, false and perhaps, attempted fraud on the court."

"Until I’ve seen the (court) documents I cannot comment on it," Robinson said Friday.

To identify properties listed on the report, county officials reportedly screened tax rolls in the Summit County Assessor’s Office for properties with a maximum sales price of $216,000.

Richer concedes that he was not well versed in the contents of the housing plan before voting for it in October.

"There’s 1,800 properties on the report, if you think that we drove around and personally inspected each one of the 1,800 properties, the answer would be ‘no,’" Richer said. "When you have an organization of the size that we have, that’s why you have to manage the organization and you have various people that are department heads."

But that’s sloppy governing, Baird said.

"When I think of good government, I expect people to read the things they vote on and ask tough questions," Baird said. Baird says his investigators examined all of the units the county claims are affordable.

According to a motion filed against the county, a lot on Whileaway Road included in the report, valued at $92,015, "does not contain any housing unit." Also included in the report is a house at 8810 North Silver Spur Road near the Jeremy Ranch Golf Course valued at $114,125, "which [plaintiffs] would love to see go to a more deserving moderate or low income family," Baird’s court filing states.

The county claims a house on Richmond Drive in Silver Summit, currently for sale for $520,000, also constitutes moderately priced housing in the Basin, court documents state.

Governments often determine what the price of affordable housing should be based the area median income in the neighborhood.

According to Baird, the county included in their housing report a house on Matterhorn Drive in Summit Park that the assessor values at $45,844. But a buyer currently has that home under contract after it was listed for sale at $659,000, Baird claims.

"Plaintiffs could go on in this fashion, showing that properties identified by [the county] in the 1,838 list are generally valued well above the moderate income level, for the entire 1,323 units, but trust the court will be able to follow the evidence," Baird’s motion states.

Thomas and Richer stood by their housing plan this week. "We have confidence in both Michael Barille and Phyllis Robinson who prepared the report & we believe in them and we trust that their information is accurate and correct," Richer said. "We think [Baird’s] charges are ludicrous," the county commissioner added.

Thomas says county officials were "up front" with the court about how the properties were identified and hasn’t seen Baird’s photographs.

"Certainly, they can try to quibble about things here and there & over a couple of units, if [they] want," Thomas said. "There’s an adequate moderate income housing program in the Snyderville Basin."

Motions filed Friday against Summit County bolster his argument for summary judgment against the government in the fair-housing lawsuit, Baird said.

"I remember early in this case, Mr. Thomas accused our law firm of misleading our clients into filing this case," Baird said. "It’s very clear from the facts, who’s been misleading whom."


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