County wins in big development case
A 3rd District Court judge dismissed an attack made by landowners against past zoning codes used by Summit County.
"It shows the County Commission has a lot of backbone in that they’re willing to go to the mat if they need to in order to protect what they believe is important to the community," deputy Summit County attorney David Thomas said.
The lawsuit was one of many filed against the county by a group of land-use attorneys in Salt Lake who say zoning ordinances enforced by the government amount to extortion.
"Their position has always been that the Snyderville Basin is completely un-zoned and therefore they can do pretty much whatever they want," Thomas said.
In 2004 Basin landowner Nadine Gillmor sued the county for $10 million after her plans to construct a subdivision near Trailside were quashed by the Summit County Commission.
Last year other property owners trying to build in the county who oppose the general plan and development code enacted in 1998, including members of the Dwayne and Joan Pace families, the Milton O. Bitner Company and Anderson Development, joined Gillmor in litigation filed against the county, its Board of Adjustment and the Summit County Attorney’s Office.
Judge Bruce Lubeck ruled against the landowners in a 41-page decision filed March 5.
The group of landowners sued too late to oppose codes enacted in the county in the 1990s and amended in 2004, according to Lubeck.
"They don’t want to be under any regulatory scheme of the county. They just do not want any regulations on them," Thomas responded when asked why attorneys Bruce Baird and Michael Hutchings continue to sue Summit County. "The county has not lost any of these (lawsuits) against Anderson Development and they’ve brought lots of cases."
Meanwhile, Gillmor claims that since the 1980s roughly 15 developers who have inquired about purchasing her property near Silver Summit Parkway have refused because they feared they wouldn’t be allowed to develop the land.
After she donated land to Summit County for a road near Trailside Park, Gillmor claims the Summit County Commission at the time promised she could build four units per acre on her property, Lubeck’s decision states.
In exchange for Gillmor’s donation, former Summit County Commissioner Jim Soter and former Community Development Director Doug Dotson promised her that when she filed a development application "there was no reason that she couldn’t get the same [four units per acre] that [Summit County] had allowed in the Trailside [subdivision] across the new street on land with exactly the same development characteristics such as topography, access and infrastructure."
But the County Commission rejected Gillmor’s attempt to amend the Snyderville Basin Development Code to allow for construction of more than 300 houses on roughly 318 acres near Trailside Park.
Therefore, Gillmor’s lawyers contend commissioners engaged in illegal zoning practices to prevent the land near Round Valley from being built upon, contended lawyers for Gillmor.
The type of "performance" zoning created by the county in the 1990s decreased Gillmor’s property value and violated her civil rights, her lawsuit stated.
The 1998 code included "the subjective, arbitrary, capricious, unpredictable, interminable and Kafkaesque application of hopelessly vague guidelines," Gillmor claimed.
Still, Lubeck sided with county officials who say that before Gillmor filed the lawsuit the time she had to protest the code expired.
"We basically asserted that the statute of limitations had run on the case," Thomas said. "The court agreed with that and the next lawsuit up, I guess, is the 2004 code."
The same group of attorneys has also challenged the general plan and development code adopted in the Snyderville Basin two years ago.
"Our position has always been that the codes are fine, they’re not improper," Thomas said, adding that the county will "aggressively" fight the next lawsuit.
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