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Summit County 2, Salt Lake attorneys 0

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Summit County filed by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People officials who claim a dearth of affordable housing on the West Side has allowed elected representatives to discriminate against minorities and the poor.

"That is certainly a vindication of the county commissioners and the policies that they’ve made," said David Thomas, Summit County’s chief civil attorney. "The county does a lot for affordable housing."

A group of attorneys in Salt Lake who represent several landowners in Snyderville last year sued the county on behalf of the NAACP, the Disabled Rights Action Committee, Utah’s Coalition of La Raza and several individuals with development interests in western Summit County.

Attorney Michael Hutchings filed the lawsuit which sought $40 million in damages from the county — for no fee.

But ruling on a motion for summary judgment May 31, U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball dismissed the claims.

"The court finds that [plaintiffs] lack standing to litigate their discriminatory housing claims because they have not alleged and cannot prove that [Summit County] has utilized the zoning ordinances or other challenged policies to deny any specific project containing housing which would allegedly benefit [plaintiffs]," Kimball states in his 14-page decision.

County Commissioner Bob Richer was confident that Summit County would prevail in the case.

"I am pleased that the court easily saw through the false allegations made by Anderson Development and their attorneys," Richer said in a press release. "Summit County has always tried to provide affordable housing opportunities to all of its citizens and will continue to do so."

Hutchings and attorney Bruce Baird have filed more than 10 lawsuits against Summit County claiming that portions of the Snyderville Basin General Plan and Development Code are illegal.

"Our position has remained the same," Thomas said. "The allegations were false allegations."

The judge "found no evidence of discrimination with respect to Summit County," Thomas said in a telephone interview Monday.

"These appear to be efforts to intimidate elected officials," he said.

Thomas points to places in the Snyderville Basin like Bear Hollow Village, Canyon Creek Club, Redstone Towne Center and Newpark, as examples of affordable housing.

But base development density in Snyderville set at one unit per 20 acres prevents all but the elite from moving into the area, Hutchings countered.

"The judge did not rule on the merits of the case. The decision should not be considered to be a vindication at all to Summit County," he said. "This county is hostile there is no other way to view it."

However, Thomas disagrees.

"This unfortunately was a case where there really wasn’t anything to it," he said.

Hutchings often attempts to settle planning disputes in courts, Thomas added.

"It’s unfortunate," said Thomas. "There has been nothing to any of the lawsuits they have filed."

Hutchings and Baird have sued county officials several times on behalf of South Summit resident Nadine Gillmor and Anderson Development.

"We’re seriously considering appealing the decision," Hutchings said about last week’s ruling.

The attorneys have also considered filing a similar complaint in Third District Court, he added.

"I’m not sure what they would be filing in [district] court," Thomas responded.

Earlier this spring, a lawsuit Hutchings filed against Summit County that claimed commissioners’ zoning practices had violated federal racketeering laws was also dismissed from federal court.


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