Judge hears arguments in annexation lawsuit, plans to issue ruling Friday
Following a 12-hour virtual hearing, a judge Monday night indicated she will allow Hideout to hold a public hearing Wednesday regarding the town’s controversial annexation plan but did not render a decision on the underlying issues of the lawsuit brought by Summit County to halt the land move.
A temporary restraining order issued last week still bars Hideout from annexing the land. The question before 4th District Court Judge Jennifer Brown is whether to convert the restraining order into an injunction preventing the annexation or to dissolve it and effectively allow Hideout to proceed.
Brown indicated the breadth of the day’s proceedings left her unable to render a judgment before Hideout’s first scheduled public hearing Wednesday evening. Instead, she allowed the meeting and advised both Hideout and Summit County a decision on the restraining order would come Friday afternoon.
At stake is who controls what is built — or isn’t — on a swath of rolling hills and rangeland on Park City’s eastern portal at Richardson Flat that Hideout is eyeing for development and Summit County wants to preserve as a bucolic buffer between it and the booming residential development in Wasatch County.
Summit County sued Hideout to prevent it from annexing the 655 acres for a planned mixed-use development. The county contends that allowing the annexation would do it irreparable harm by paving the way for a Kimball Junction-sized development on land the county has long planned for extremely low density development or open space.
Hideout on Monday argued that it would be the party irreparably harmed if the court issued the injunction because it might prevent the annexation from ever happening. The state Legislature is expected to revisit and possibly repeal the legislation that allows the annexation as soon as Aug. 20. Hideout has scheduled a potential vote on the proposal Aug. 18.
Hideout’s attorney argued that the town was simply pursuing a land-use provision enabled by state law. As recently as June, the annexation would not have been possible without Summit County’s consent, which it has said it would not grant. That longstanding norm was upended by two bills that legislators have said were misrepresented to them, and which the county claims were misrepresented on the House floor.
According to court documents and testimony offered Monday, the developers who are pursuing the project, Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney, along with their attorney Bruce Baird, hired a lobbyist who successfully worked to overturn a provision in state code that enabled counties to veto annexation of their land by a municipality in another county.
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson referred to it as finding a “legislative vehicle” to allow cities to go across county lines to annex land, a point Brockbank conceded in testimony Monday.
Brockbank and Romney were planning a development on Richardson Flat called North Park that called for no less than 200,000 square feet of retail commercial space, 100,000 square feet of offices and industrial uses and 3,500 residential dwellings, according to court documents. Summit County officials estimated such a development would bring 10,000 residents to the area.
The county pressed Hideout Mayor Phil Rubin on how he planned to provide municipal services to a development of that size, with Olson asking about Hideout’s current size — roughly 600 units, Rubin said — and its number of employees, which the mayor said was four.
The developers, through a representative, said the density they seek would provide up to 3,500 homes, but that they do not anticipate building that many. They declined to confirm the commercial and office square footage, but court filings appear to show those density numbers as being included in a draft pre-annexation agreement as late as July 14, five days after the Hideout Town Council voted to empower the mayor to enter into such an agreement.
At Monday’s hearing, Summit County argued that Hideout was not equipped to provide services to a development of that size; that the arrangements had been made in secret, deliberately avoiding a quorum to skirt open meetings laws; and that the county is in fact a co-owner of a parcel of land in question, and as a landowner would have to consent in writing to the annexation.
Hideout refuted each point, arguing that the meetings were noticed legally; that small meetings are commonly held to avoid a quorum of officials; and that it is merely pursuing a legally allowed annexation.
Brown indicated that she wasn’t sure how the Hideout Town Council could have voted in favor of the two annexation-related items without talking about them publicly in some level of detail. The project the developers are contemplating has many times the density of the current town.
Robert Mansfield, a Salt Lake City trial attorney Hideout hired for the proceeding, contended that there is no requirement in state code that members of the public understand the proceedings of a public meeting, rather that the code merely requires that the meeting is noticed properly and that the agenda lists the topics being discussed.
The pre-annexation agreement calls for the developers to reimburse the town for legal fees.
he Hideout Town Council did not have extensive deliberations at its July 9 meeting before unanimously voting to move forward with the annexation process. A town employee testified that was the first time this particular annexation plan had been discussed in a public meeting, though the town had revised its future annexation map to include land in Summit County in 2019.
Brown also noted multiple times that, regardless of whether legislators intend to repeal the legislation at issue, it remains the law of the land for now.
The county appeared to start off Monday’s hearing on the wrong foot when it was revealed that it had missed a filing deadline Friday morning, instead filing declarations of witnesses and exhibits by the end of the business day, apparently due to a staffer’s mistaken understanding.
Though the hearing lasted a full 12 hours, time constraints were a constant theme, with the judge reminding Summit County multiple times to move more quickly and Olson leaving some cross-examination questions unasked.
The next 10 days seem likely to offer a flurry of activity centered around the annexation bid. After Wednesday’s public hearing, Brown is expected to render a decision Friday, which may or may not allow the rest of Hideout’s scheduled public hearings to proceed. One of those hearings is planned for Monday before the Hideout Planning Commission, while the Town Council is planning to hold a public hearing Tuesday before a possible vote to annex the land. The state Legislature is expected to convene Aug. 20.
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