NIMBYs influence Summit County’s Colby School vote, lawsuit says
May 8, 2018
Hoffvest LLC, representing the owner of the former Colby School property on S.R. 224, filed a lawsuit in the 3rd District Court last week against Summit County over the County Council's recent decision to rescind a permit for a hotel project on the land.
Bruce Baird, an attorney representing Hoffvest LLC, filed the seven-page complaint on May 3.
The lawsuit is in response to the County Council's March 28 ruling to overturn the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission's decision to grant a conditional-use permit for a 15-room hotel. The proposal included a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and fitness studios, among other amenities.
The lawsuit accuses the County Council of making a decision based on a "flawed process, misrepresentations by counsel for the NIMBYs and public clamor." It also alleges the decision was illegal and determined the three years of work by Hoffvest LLC and the planning panel was a "complete waste of time and the process that had been followed was entirely wrong."
Baird said he filed the lawsuit as a placeholder while his client decides what actions to take next.
"There was a 30-day clock running on the appeal and if you didn't file to protect your rights within that time frame, you would lose your right to go to court," he said.
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The former Colby School property was acquired by Emma Worsley and Julie McBroom in 2014. Summit County originally approved the building as the Snowed Inn and related uses as a Class II development in August of 1985. The 1998 Development Code allowed for a change of use in the existing building from a hotel to a school, and it operated as a school until 2008.
Seven public meetings, including four hearings, were held at the Planning Commission level about the project, with residents in the three surrounding neighborhoods overwhelmingly opposing the project from the onset. The former Colby School is in a rural-residential zone and is surrounded by the Park West Village, Brookside Estates and Two Creeks Ranch neighborhoods. Two applications were filed in December appealing the planning panel's decision.
County Council members ultimately determined the project's application did not go through the appropriate process and the proposed uses are not allowed in the rural-residential zone at the scale they were proposed.
The lawsuit alleges Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson's legal advice to the County Council was "completely wrong," rendering the decision illegal. The suit further alleges a violation of open meetings laws.
Several of the allegations were made prior to the County Council's vote. Days before the appeals were scheduled for a review, Baird sent a letter accusing the County Council of misconduct and demanding the five members' recusal, along with an independent review of the appeal and continuation of the discussion. None of the demands were met.
The suit claims Hoffvest LLC spent significant time and money based on advice by the Summit County Attorney's Office and would not have purchased the property without it, which specified what pre-existing and ongoing rights were attached to the land, according to court documents.
Joe Wrona, an attorney representing Andrew Levy, one of the residents who filed an appeal, said he was anticipating a suit after the Council's decision. But, he called it an "act of desperation."
"Their chances of prevailing in court are equivalent to a snowball's chance in hell," he said. "The County Council's decision is very well grounded. The applicant went through the process at the planning commission level and then with the County Council. When it became clear the County Council was going to apply the code properly, the applicant scrambled to manufacture issues."
Wrona said it is a "pity" Hoffvest LLC has resorted to "theatrics." He said the allegations in the lawsuit actually highlight the weakness of the argument rather than support it.
"They are not saying they got the law wrong," he said. "They are saying the County Council acted unprofessionally. The County Council conducted itself appropriately at all times, and conducted its affairs pursuant to the advice and guidance of County Attorney Margaret Olsen. You can rest assured that the County Council's decision will be upheld in court."
Baird said the county had not been served as of Tuesday morning. A request for comment from the county attorney was not returned.
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