Summit County files lawsuit against Dakota Pacific, state over S.B. 84
The 46-page complaint filed by County Attorney Margaret Olson challenges the constitutionality of the bill that seeks to strip local control at the Park City Tech Center
The Summit County Council was expected to make the long-awaited final decision regarding the proposed Dakota Pacific Real Estate project on Wednesday, but instead announced it is suing the development firm, the state of Utah and 50 John Does.
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson filed the 46-page complaint challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 84, which seeks to remove local land-use authority, in the Third District Court in Summit County, for “legislative cronyism.”
County Council Chair Roger Armstrong said there would be no vote on the project until the matter is resolved through litigation.
“DPRE’s lobbyists pushed through targeted legislation without any public hearings to maximize DPRE’s profits and effectively gut Summit County’s ability to restrict appropriate development under both the Development Agreement and the County’s local authority,” the complaint stated.
Dakota Pacific in a statement said it was disappointed the county filed the lawsuit instead of voting on the application “after four years of working with Summit County to shape a development proposal that helps address critical community needs in the Kimball Junction area.”
“As owners of the Tech Center site and other buildings in the surrounding area, we know that Summit County’s housing and transportation needs are significant and that improvements are needed soon. In the wake of the Council’s action, we are assessing our options to determine our next steps,” the statement continued.
Olson argued Dakota Pacific knew the 2008 development agreement, which limits what can be built at the Kimball Junction site to mostly tech-related and research office buildings, was “in full force and effect.” Yet the development firm’s lobbyists took advantage of the nearly-complete process to review S.B. 84 and “add a second substitute without additional public oversight and with incomplete disclosure,” she alleged.
While the legislation was originally meant to clarify issues within the Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone Act, the substitution would allow Dakota Pacific to build a high-density, mixed-use development without county approval – despite the existing development code and strong community opposition.
County officials said it’s the first time the Utah Legislature has “spot zoned” a specific property to benefit a specific developer.
Dakota Pacific CEO Marc Stanworth during a public hearing on March 8 about the proposed Tech Center project dismissed community concerns that the legislation did not go through a transparent public process. He confirmed Dakota Pacific lobbyists were consulted on the legislation. Stanworth offered support for S.B. 84, saying it helps to address the housing crisis across the state, including Summit County.
But the complaint said that argument is being used by the development firm and its lobbyists in an attempt to “hide their plunder of the Summit County community.”
The lawsuit outlines the history of the Tech Center, the negotiation with The Boyer Company and the community’s long-standing concerns about high-density development in the area as well as the influence Dakota Pacific had on the changes to House Bill 462, which was passed during the 2022 legislative session and similarly targeted local control at the Tech Center.
H.B. 462 required the County Council to adopt a moderate-income housing plan and include a Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone, which must be located at the Tech Center, last fall. Officials submitted a plan, and received a compliance letter from the Utah Department of Workforce Services in November, according to the complaint.
However, Olson said Dakota Pacific lobbyists “pressured” DWS to withdraw compliance, arguing that the county’s commitment to evaluating and approving an HTRZ in the future did not meet the mandate. DWS maintained that Summit County complied with the law.
Olson said that Dakota Pacific “resorted to legislative cronyism” because it failed to pressure the county and the state department. The complaint alleged that Dakota Pacific and its lobbyists sought to punish Summit County by attempting to remove a multi-million dollar grant awarded to High Valley Transit for the Bus Rapid Transit project and by spreading a false narrative that the county is opposed to constructing affordable housing in the Snyderville Basin.
“It is disappointing that members of the Utah Legislature believed a false narrative about Summit County without ever speaking to members of county leadership, and instead conferred a private benefit on a specific developer in violation of an existing contract,” Olson said in a statement. “The idea that the Legislature can unilaterally cancel any contract for the benefit of a private party is a dangerous precedent and one that the people of the State of Utah and the other two coequal branches of government should reject.”
Armstrong said during the County Council meeting that all considerations on the application would be suspended until the matter is resolved by a court.
“This is an unfortunate process. We were undertaking, in good faith, a process to process this application; to do so in a transparent way,” he said. “Instead of following a straight ahead, traditional process, we were hit with legislation that was cooked up on the side. Unfortunately, it’s mangled what would have been our normal process and put us in this position. We can’t continue until our land-use authority is determined.”
The county’s lawsuit asks the court to rule that the language targeting Summit County in S.B. 84 is unconstitutional because of the existing development agreement. The County Courthouse is also seeking damages and has asked for a jury trial.
The complaint includes eight claims against the various defendants, including: that the passage of S.B. 84 does not address the existing development agreement and that the bill does not void the contract; that the language in the legislation does not apply to Dakota Pacific or the Tech Center; that Summit County has the “right to cure” as it considers an HTRZ proposal that doesn’t involve the development firm or Kimball Junction location; that judgment must be issued on how the county evaluates the Dakota Pacific application under S.B. 84, if it is determined constitutional; that the bill violated due process procedures protected by the state constitution; that the bill is unconstitutional because of spot-zoning; and that Dakota Pacific breached good faith and fair dealings.
It will likely take years for the matter to be resolved in court. Summit County officials, meanwhile, are asking Gov. Spencer Cox to veto the legislation. However, there could be enough votes in the Legislature to override the governor’s decision.
The legislation can also become law without Cox’s signature. In that case it will take effect in early May, 60 days following the Legislature’s adjournment.
Ski industry questions: What about the Park City Mountain ‘mosh pit’ and what of alcohol at Deer Valley concerts?
Crowd at recent panel discussion inquired about a broad range of issues, but time ran out for answers.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.