Judge overrules county’s decision to bar Basin landowner from building 9,300-square-foot barn, though project still faces hurdles
County retains authority to reject application
A 3rd District Court judge overturned a Summit County Council decision to bar a Snyderville Basin landowner from constructing a large barn on his property, but the judge ruled on technical grounds that appear to leave the project still facing an uphill battle.
Judge Richard Mrazik ruled last week that the county’s decision to forbid the 9,300-square-foot barn was made using the wrong criteria, and ordered the county to reevaluate the application. Mrazik indicated the county rejected the plan using the criteria for a zoning variance, rather than a special exception. The landowner, Michael Bermes, sued the county after it rejected his application for an exception to a rule that limits the amount of land that can be disturbed on ridgelines.
While Summit County appeared to have lost in court, the county retains the right to evaluate the application and determine, once again, whether to grant the exception so that the barn may be constructed.
The County Council has a new member and may rule differently than it did when it denied Bermes’ request to build the barn on a hilltop overlooking Trailside Park. Bermes will have to obtain a special exception and a low impact permit from the county to complete the project.
If the county once again rejects the application, Bermes can once again appeal the decision to district court.
The county’s land-use regulations limit the amount of soil that can be disturbed on ridgelines visible from major roadways in an attempt to preserve the natural landscape. The county claimed that Bermes had already drastically exceeded the limit.
Bermes is now left to seek another exception to that rule.
Bermes received a special exception in 2015 to disturb 44,000-square-feet of land to build a roughly 15,000-square-foot home and garage, according to a Summit County report.
The county claims that Bermes proceeded to disturb more than 100,000 square feet more than he was allowed, but Bermes’ attorney disputes that figure, saying that much of the additional disturbance was on land the county Health Department had designated as a site for a septic system.
The judge’s ruling sided with Summit County in determining that the county’s disturbance limitation applies to a parcel of land over its lifetime rather than to individual projects.
If the limit applied per project, an applicant would be entitled to disturb up to 20,000 square feet of ridgeline for each project they sought.
When the county solicited public input about the barn last fall, the Trailside neighbors who submitted comments were nearly unanimously opposed to the building. The comments allege previous negative interactions with the property, including construction impacts that were poorly managed and that the large home does not fit in with the neighborhood.
A Summit County staff report indicates there are 43 accessory buildings in the Highland Estates neighborhood with an average size of 834 square feet.
The homeowner’s attorney, Eric Lee, did not return requests for comment. Lee has argued that many of the property’s challenges are inevitable results of the county’s decision to create a subdivided lot on the ridgeline, and are not due to Bermes’ attempts to exercise his property rights.
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Summit County’s sales taxes are beating 2019 levels, with an estimated additional $1.2 million in revenue. Councilors debated using the money to hire more employees.