Judge grants restraining order against Hideout as Summit County seeks to prevent annexation
A 4th District Court judge Tuesday afternoon imposed a temporary restraining order on Hideout, granting Summit County’s request to prevent the town from moving forward with its plan to annex hundreds of acres in Summit County.
The county had requested the order Monday, along with an expedited hearing on an injunction it is seeking that would block the annexation until lawmakers revisit the controversial law that made it possible, which they are expected to do later this month.
“Hideout (and developers Josh) Romney and (Nate) Brockbank seek nothing less than to overturn decades of careful land use planning and community development: with non-contiguous land in Summit County they do not own,” the county’s restraining order filing states. “The import of this cannot be overstated.”
Hideout announced its intention to annex 655 acres of land in Summit County at a public hearing July 9 with little notice given to the public or surrounding jurisdictions. Romney and Brockbank are eyeing the land for a mixed-use development, which Summit County contends would include 200,000 square feet of retail commercial space, 100,000 square feet of offices and industrial uses and 3,500 residential dwellings, bringing an estimated 10,000 residents to the area. The Park Record was unable to verify those details.
The land is currently zoned for very low density development or to be kept as open space. Hideout elected officials have said commercial development is necessary to serve the influx of residents expected as the land around the Jordanelle Reservoir continues to be developed.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said in an interview he was pleased with the court’s decision to grant the temporary restraining order but that there was still a long road ahead.
Hideout appears to be effectively barred from annexing the land until a court hearing scheduled Aug. 10 to determine whether the restraining order should be dissolved or turned into a preliminary injunction. The town had previously scheduled a public meeting Aug. 18 at which it could have annexed the land.
Fisher pointed out that if the county doesn’t prevail at the Aug. 10 hearing, it’s possible the town could still annex the land before the Legislature meets in a special session that is anticipated to begin Aug. 20. Legislators have indicated they may seek to repeal the law that allows the annexation, which went into effect in early July.
“Hideout developers and legal advisors and lobbyists have obviously done some things incorrectly in relation to the Legislature and in relation to the open meetings act that obviously we don’t agree with,” Fisher said. “We know this is a long road of a process, whether that includes, and it does include, the Legislature taking action on a retroactive repeal, and this is just one step.”
Hideout has denied allegations of impropriety.
In granting the order, Judge Jennifer Brown agreed with Summit County that it would “suffer irreparable harm if the status quo is not maintained during the litigation.”
Summit County augmented its legal filings against Hideout on Monday, using choice language to request the restraining order and expedited hearing.
Among the descriptors employed by county attorneys in the 105-page filing are “flagrant,” “unsavory,” “get rich quick,” “spectacular fraud,” “utterly failed,” “legal quagmire,” “nefarious” and “thwart.”
In making its case, the county cites documents it received from a records request filed July 15 with Hideout. The Park Record filed a similar request but did not receive the documents as of press time.
Neither Romney, the son of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, nor a public relations firm employed by the developers immediately responded to requests for comment. On Friday, before the latest filing, an attorney representing the developers denied allegations of impropriety and said in an interview that development in Summit County had long been unnecessarily burdensome.
“Summit County is unreasonable in its development regulations and always has been unreasonable in its development regulations. Summit County unreasonably controls the use and development of private property in ways that benefit the friends of the county as opposed to the public,” said attorney Bruce Baird. “… It’s virtually impossible to get a yes for any reasonable development in Summit County, and it has been for 25 years, and any honest developer or developer’s lawyer or landowner would tell you that.”
Summit County community development director Pat Putt declined to comment.
In the filing, the county contends its zoning practices, which it claims include ample public input, have helped ensure a good quality of life for its residents. The open spaces and trail networks make Summit County a desirable place to live and one in which property has grown more valuable, the county argues.
“The homes in the Snyderville Basin, if placed in urban Salt Lake County, would not be as valuable as they are when placed in Summit County, specifically in the Snyderville Basin,” the filing states. “This increase in value and desirability is precisely because of the careful land use planning that has taken many years to develop and represents the values of the community as a whole, through the public process and the elected leadership.”
The county’s filing describes the developers as lacking deep ties to the community.
“Much like in the mining days of old, they are speculators looking to get rich quick in by-passing the rules to strike gold regardless of consequence,” the filing states. “They have shown no interest in addressing the impacts or irreparable harm to Summit County, to other entities, landowners or to the community in general, but have focused solely on the path of least resistance to the perceived gold mine. They have peddled their money and influence to benefit from special purpose legislation so that the gold mine, once struck, will have little oversight and great reward.”
Summit County’s story is that Romney and Brockbank have been seeking to put urban development on land in Summit County that is now held as open space since at least early 2019, when Hideout began a process to revise its future annexation map.
An annexation would have required Summit County’s approval, which County Manager Tom Fisher wrote at the time he would not grant. But in July, the legislation removing that requirement went into effect, opening the door for this annexation.
Baird, the developers’ attorney, has acknowledged to The Park Record that he helped craft the legislation.
The county alleges an application from the developers filed last January to change Summit County’s future land use map for the area was a ruse, a move meant to take the county’s eye off the proceedings in Hideout.
When the developers removed the application from consideration in Summit County, Brockbank worried that the county would grow suspicious, the county’s filing claims, citing a June 30 email the developer sent to Baird and the Hideout town attorney obtained in the public records request.
“Guys do you have anytime to talk about the pre-annexation agreement today. Now that we are off the agenda in Summit County I’m afraid that they are going to start wondering what is going on,” Brockbank wrote in the email, according to the filing.
The county’s attorneys further allege that the developers’ representatives misled legislators and subverted open public meetings practices and that Hideout officials had “pre-cooked” the annexation process in closed-door meetings.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect a date change for the Aug. 10 court hearing. It was originally scheduled for Aug. 17.
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