Democrat claims big land holdings are not a conflict
October 17, 2008
A Democrat vying for a two-year term on the Summit County Council claims an application for a major subdivision on hundreds of acres he owns east of Kamas won’t impact his ability to govern if elected.
Snyderville Basin resident Chris Robinson is competing for seat D and acknowledged owning about 60,000 acres of property in Summit County in an interview Tuesday. Robinson said he owns roughly 22,000 acres of land north of Interstate 80. He also owns about 35,000 acres south of the freeway in North Summit.
Robinson, meanwhile, hopes part of 400 acres he owns in the Uinta Mountains east of Kamas becomes a major subdivision in Summit County near the edge of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
"Along the North Slope of the Uintas, along the Bear River, we have 400 some odd acres that have been part of a pending development application for a major subdivision," Robinson explained.
And until about five years ago, Robinson, who is chief executive officer of The Ensign Group development firm, partnered with former Summit County Community Development Director Dave Allen to buy land in eastern Summit County.
"We bought a big ranch together known as the Anschutz Ranch, which had a lot of big holdings in eastern Summit County We had a real successful partnership and we separated as of Jan. 1, 2003," Robinson said about his dealings with Allen. "I don’t know how many times, or in how many ways I can say this, but my running for this office has absolutely nothing to do with any of my business or real estate interest."
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Still, development battles are brewing between county planners and landowners on the East Side who want to develop their property, and Robinson did not say he would recuse himself from all planning-and-zoning discussions, despite his large holdings.
"That takes an awful lot of the discussion out," Robinson said. "If there ever is a conflict I’ll recuse myself."
Elected officials should stay out of discussions and not vote when they could financially gain from decisions.
"I don’t need to run for this office in order to develop that land, and we’ve had some of that land since 1953," Robinson said. "If we wanted to develop it, there is plenty of opportunity."
Robinson admits if elected his biggest conflict of interest could be having one of his top employees as an independent contractor for Summit County. The Ensign Group Director of Real Estate Randy Cassidy answers to Robinson while advising county officials in real-estate matters.
The Eastern Summit County Planning Commission is currently discussing a controversial transfer-of-development-rights program, or TDR. And already Cassidy has participated in TDR transactions Summit County has conducted, County Commissioner Bob Richer said Tuesday.
Still, according to Summit County Attorney David Brickey, "Chris Robinson is the only individual who can answer the question of whether or not he has a conflict."
"Any time any of us who are in public service have an issue which we are considering and we acknowledge there is a conflict, as long as we put that on the record, then we can participate if we want to."
Land Robinson owns in eastern Summit County doesn’t preclude him from participating in debates about planning and zoning and other projects if he is elected, Brickey said, adding, though, that "it’s a component of [Robinson’s] personality and who he is, and I understand why people are asking."
"If he doesn’t have anything in the pipeline he has no obvious conflict. He would not be able to sit on the County Council and hear any issues as it related to his actual development or his land," Brickey said. "He would have to recuse himself from that participation As long as it’s not dealing directly with his parcel, he can still participate."
Robinson is campaigning for seat D against Park City Republican Alison Pitt and Jeremy Ranch resident Gary Shumway, a member of the Constitution Party. Both of Robinson’s opponents have criticized him for the potential conflicts of interest.