Attorney accuses Summit County Council of misconduct in hotel project review
March 27, 2018
An attorney representing the applicant for the hotel project at the former Colby School property on S.R. 224 is accusing the Summit County Council of misconduct, claiming, among other charges, that the Council members engaged in inappropriate secret sessions in violation of open meetings laws.
Bruce Baird, an attorney for the applicant, Hoffvest LLC, is demanding the entire Council's recusal from a review of the appeals regarding the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission's decision to grant a permit for the hotel project. The matter is listed on the County Council meeting agenda for Wednesday.
The Planning Commission granted a conditional-use permit for the project on Dec. 12, a decision that proved contentious among residents in the Park West Village, Brookside Estates and
Two Creeks Ranch neighborhoods. Members of the Park West Preservation Coalition, which represents several property owners in Park West Village, and Joe Wrona, an attorney representing resident Andrew Levy, filed two separate appeals with the county on Dec. 22.
Baird sent a letter on behalf of Emma Worsley and Julie McBroom, who, operating as Hoffvest LLC, acquired the former Colby School property in 2014. The letter sent to the county on
Monday outlines the applicant's demands based on what it alleges has been misconduct by the County Council in "deliberating Hoffvest's four-year effort to gain the necessary approvals for development plans at the property."
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"It has been poisoned so much that we think that the public hearing on Wednesday would be pointless at this point until the county has a chance to adequately consider what has been said in the letter," Baird said.
One of the first assertions made in the letter alleges Council member Roger Armstrong is "conflicted" and should immediately recuse himself from the discussion. Armstrong revealed during a public meeting centered on the hotel project last week that Wrona is representing his wife, Beth Armstrong, in a personal matter.
Armstrong stated last week that he did not engage in any ex parte conversations with Wrona outside of Council meetings and could make an unbiased decision on the appeals. Baird asked that the discussion of the appeals be continued to a later date, but the Council overruled that request.
"I was surprised the request for continuation was not honored last week," Baird said. "To spring that information on someone at 4 p.m. is unconscionable. We should have been notified early in the date, at a minimum."
When reached for comment about the allegations, Armstrong said the Council does not comment on the "substance of a matter pending before it." County Attorney Margaret Olson issued a similar statement.
Hoffvest LLC's letter also claimed the Council violated Utah open meeting laws by deliberating on the issue in secret session prior to the public hearing on March 14. Hoffvest LLC requested access to recordings of the closed-door meetings and further demanded in the letter the Council recuse itself because of "its inappropriate behavior" while an independent body from another county investigates the alleged conflicts and open meetings violations.
County Council members repeatedly announced during meetings their intent to meet in closed session to discuss the appeal and receive guidance from the legal department since the first review. However, none of the meetings were ever formally noticed to the public.
Baird said he was unaware of any private discussions, having first learned of the closed-door sessions minutes before the March 14 meeting.
"It's clear to me that the Council's process on this whole issue has been confusing at best, and it's time for the Council to do it right," he said. "We are trying to get it regularized and make sense of it and be treated fairly. I would at least hope the county gets outside counsel and takes seriously the question of closed meetings before they go forward on this and expose themselves to more problems."
Baird said his client considered its legal options before ultimately deciding to send the letter. Hoffvest LLC requested a continuance of Wednesday's scheduled hearing "while these matters are reviewed and adjudicated."
"It's very frustrating to my client to have followed the course of action required by the county for four years only to have the county to change its own mind," Baird said. "It seemed to change its mind in the face of the public clamor from the neighbors. The Planning Commission did a thorough and excellent job in considering this. Everything I have heard from the County Council isn't challenging the commission's decision. It is challenging the legal advice they were given."