Summit County sues Hideout again, taking aim at process that led to annexation vote
The winter winds recently resumed their place among the sagebrush and hillsides of Richardson Flat as they have for centuries, but in a courtroom miles away, a new front recently opened in the legal battle to determine which government controls the land’s future.
On Nov. 19, Summit County sued Hideout once again, attempting to thwart the town’s bid to annex and develop an area the county would rather see undisturbed.
The county alleges Hideout committed several technical transgressions in the process to annex the land, including violating open meetings laws, improperly adopting a land-use regulation, engaging in unlawful contract zoning and failing to meet the Oct. 19 deadline to make the annexation effective.
A Hideout attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The claims echo many complaints the county made in a lawsuit regarding the town’s initial annexation attempt over the summer that sparked the controversy. Hideout abandoned that attempt before restarting the effort, which ultimately resulted in a vote to annex the land. The courts have so far declined to bar the town from annexing the land, though the developer reduced the project area by nearly half for issues related to another piece of litigation.
In the earlier lawsuit, which remains unresolved, 4th District Judge Jennifer Brown indicated she was receptive to arguments that Hideout had violated open meetings laws, though the town has repeatedly denied those claims. Brown is assigned to this case, as well.
Hideout is a fledgling town of about 1,000 residents that, due to its strange beginnings as a residential development in Wasatch County, has almost no commercial development and little commercial tax base to pay for municipal services, despite an influx of residents and near-constant residential construction.
Town officials see the answer to some of those problems in Richardson Flat, specifically 350 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to a mining soil repository with Superfund-level contamination. The Hideout Town Council voted to annex the land in mid-October and negotiated an agreement with developer Nate Brockbank to build a mixed-use project with 600 residences, 95,000 square feet of commercial development and a new town hall on the site.
Hideout officials said the impetus for the move was creating the kind of commercial services that residents around the Jordanelle Reservoir need, like a grocery store or gas station. The annexation was allowed by a state law that was repealed after only a few months on the books. It allowed Hideout to annex the land without Summit County’s consent and also allowed a “cherry-stem” annexation. The site isn’t contiguous to the town’s current borders, and its residents would have to drive past a site planned for a 10,000-square-foot grocery store set to open by next winter on the way to the new Hideout Town Center.
But the annexation isn’t a done deal: It may be contingent upon Hideout residents voting to approve it. Referendum organizers have submitted the necessary paperwork, which town officials have approved, and they are now in the midst of a 45-day push to collect signatures from 40% of the 281 active voters in Hideout, or about 113 people.
In the run-up to the vote to annex, two Hideout elected officials said they were supporting the measure because they believed residents would challenge it via referendum and that the issue would be up to town residents to decide on the ballot.
If the necessary signatures are gathered, the annexation could be on the ballot in a special election on June 22.
Regardless of the referendum outcome, there are now four lawsuits attempting to prevent the annexation from occurring.
In its latest filing, Summit County alleges that Hideout, Brockbank and others “entered into a scheme and artifice to defeat Summit County’s zoning laws and ordinances by crime and fraud.”
It alleges that Hideout purposely withheld supporting documents from the public, including drafts of the annexation master development agreement that would govern the project. It further contends that the town was obligated to hold public hearings — and accept public comment — when it did not do so.
It also alleges that the town’s notice of the public hearing was invalid, because it was amended 24 hours before the meeting, and only then did it include directions for members of the public to comment.
The complaint alleges 20 people attempted to comment at the public hearing but were unable to do so because of technical challenges with the video conferencing platform.
The county also claims that the ordinance annexing the land and adopting the development agreement with Brockbank has never been legally enacted, as it has not been published in accordance with state code. The county claims that Hideout missed the deadline to act before the Legislature’s repeal of the law allowing the annexation took effect Oct. 19.
In a counterclaim to a different county lawsuit, Brockbank claims that the county has consistently prevented development around Richardson Flat to squash competition for a similar development the county wants to build nearby.
The county denies those claims.
Hideout has an agreement with the developer designed to protect it from incurring costs related to the annexation like hiring outside counsel.
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