Land deal prompts lawsuit against county
The most recent lawsuit filed against the Summit County commissioners claims they failed to properly notice their intentions before they sold property owned by taxpayers to a Snyderville Basin developer.
According to the plaintiff in the case, Snyderville landowner Nadine Gillmor, on Jan. 11 the Summit County Commission sold five county-owned lots on the West Side to Keith Kelley, developer of The Colony, for $4.7 million.
State law requires such actions be noticed 14 days before the meeting, however, notification of the Jan. 11 commission session was posted only six days prior, states a Feb. 10 complaint filed against the Summit County Commission by Gillmor in Third District Court.
"[Summit County’s] own ordinance requires no less than 10 days public notice prior to a hearing for comments before disposing of real property ," Gillmor’s complaint states.
When it sold the property, Summit County violated a state law that prohibits governmental entities from investing in private enterprises, she claims.
"To ensure fair market value, [Summit County] must amass and analyze financial information, economic data, property valuation and appraisal, and ensure that documentation is available to the public within the legislative record," Gillmor’s complaint states. " the county has failed to conduct the necessary study of the market to ensure it received fair market value for the [five lots.]"
Because commissioners violated the law when they sold the property without properly determining its market value or posting notice, the sale should be declared "null and void," Gillmor states.
Deputy Summit County attorney Jami Brackin, however, rejected the landowner’s claims, adding, "there has been lots of public input and this was all done in the open, all on the record."
"I know for a fact that all of the laws were adhered to and I can cite you chapter and verse if you’d like," Brackin said. "If the Board of County Commissioners decide they want to have another public hearing to talk about it again, great. Legally, is it required? No. It would be purely superficial."
Members of the public, however, have weighed in repeatedly with their support for selling county-owned parcels to obtain money to purchase open space, she said.
"[The lawsuit] is without merit," Brackin said. "If the purpose of these things is to get money to buy open space, you want to make sure you get as much money as you possibly can, up to a point."
The lots sold by the county haven’t even been platted, she added.
"We had a couple of offers so we know we’re in the fair market value range, and, we know what the improved, platted lots are going for," Brackin said. "We’re certainly within that neighborhood."
Meanwhile, Gillmor, who owns more than 500 acres of property in western Summit County, is currently battling the county on other legal fronts. The Summit County Commission thwarted her efforts to construct dense residential development near Trailside and she now claims the sale of the units near The Canyons was perhaps a bad deal for taxpayers.
When a development agreement called a "specially planned area" was approved several years ago for landowners at The Canyons resort, as a "community benefit," Summit County obtained lots in the area with the intentions of selling them to raise money to preserve open space, Summit County Community Development Director Nora Shepard said.
"It was a community benefit that was part of a very public process," she added.
Still, because commissioners failed to properly notice the sale of the land, members of the public couldn’t comment on this transaction, Gillmor countered.
"The public has a right to be heard on important issues such as the sale or transfer of property owned by the county and the public," Gillmor’s lawsuit states.
Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme said this is the 10th development-related lawsuit filed against the county by this group of attorneys. The firm’s others clients include Anderson Development and several Basin landowners.
"These cock-eyed lawsuits, I’m certainly not pleased with them," Woolstenhulme said. "Every time you make a decision you get a lawsuit from one side or the other."
But the frivolous nature of this lawsuit surprised him, he added.
"Consider the source of the lawsuit really this thing doesn’t make any sense at all," he said, condemning Gillmor’s attorneys for convincing longtime residents to sue the county. "They’re just on a witch hunt out to get us, and they’ll try every means."
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