Who did a bait-and-switch? Dakota Pacific, Summit County to argue in court next month
The entities disagree on who deceived whom
The County Courthouse and Dakota Pacific Real Estate seem to be in agreement that a bait-and-switch strategy was utilized during the Park City Tech Center negotiations, but the two entities differ on which should be faulted for it.
Dakota Pacific last week filed its opposing argument to one of the county’s motions for partial summary judgment, which addresses whether the proposed development falls within the provisions of the new law created by Senate Bill 84. The law took effect on May 2. It takes away some local land use control in Kimball Junction and could force Summit County to approve the 727-unit mixed-use development.
The county claims the proposed Dakota Pacific development falls outside the requirements of S.B. 84 because the language of the law only grants development rights “within ⅓ mile radius of a public transit hub” and that High Valley Transit doesn’t meet the definition of a public transit hub under state code.
Meanwhile, the developer in its reply argued Summit County embraced the concept of a mixed-use development near the Tech Center and actively sought inclusion in Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone (HTRZ) legislation approved during previous sessions because of the funding opportunities.
Third District Court Judge Richard Mrazik is expected to hear oral arguments next month on the second motion for partial summary judgment. He could make a ruling on the claim at that time, which could impact the rest of the lawsuit.
Summit County filed eight claims against Dakota Pacific, as well as the State of Utah and 50 unnamed defendants, and is seeking partial summary judgment for two. The other motion asks the court to rule on the county’s claim that S.B. 84 does not invalidate the existing 2008 development agreement that limits what can be built there to mostly tech-related businesses.
While filings from the County Courthouse claim the developer orchestrated a “bait-and-switch” to get S.B. 84 passed, the response filed by the developer indicates it believes it was the one deceived.
Dakota Pacific purchased the Tech Center property in 2018; a transaction the development firm said wouldn’t have happened “without assurances that it could move away from the research park concept to a mixed-use development with a substantial portion of market-based and workforce housing.”
The first public hearing on the application was held in July 2020, which was nearly one year after the Summit County Council approved the Kimball Junction Neighborhood Plan. The framework developed by community members lays out a vision for how to manage growth and development in the Snyderville Basin area.
The May 5 filing states Summit County in 2021 was preparing to approve the Dakota Pacific project around the same time as it began lobbying for inclusion in the HTRZ. County staffers the following year worked to safeguard their eligibility for HTRZ funding, according to court records.
“Summit County is free to argue that the Utah Legislature unfairly targeted the Kimball Junction Station—and the legal insufficiency of those arguments is addressed in Dakota Pacific’s Motion to Dismiss,” the filing stated. “But, based on the public record there can be no question the Kimball Junction Station, and the Dakota Pacific Property in particular, were squarely at the heart of the Legislature’s intent.”
Former County Councilor Glenn Wright, who was first elected in 2016 and retired late last year, is supportive of the Dakota Pacific development as a way to address the county’s housing crisis – though he is critical of how the developer has worked to get its project approved.
Wright said the County Courthouse had several extensive discussions about the Kimball Junction Neighborhood Plan, something he said officials understood would likely lead to future rezoning efforts to promote mixed-use development in the area. There was also backing for the HTRZ because at the time it was seen as a beneficial tool and a way to receive funding for crucial infrastructure projects in the S.R. 224 corridor.
“There were plenty of advantages,” Wright said. “There was good, unspoken support for the project until the public opposition came out.”
The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission in September 2020 forwarded a negative recommendation for the development to the County Council. The following summer, four members of the panel indicated they would likely support amending the 2008 development agreement despite vast opposition from many community members.
The County Council in December of 2021 postponed a vote on the project after hundreds of people showed up to the meeting to protest, which also prompted Dakota Pacific to revise their proposal throughout most of last year. The new plan was announced in October.
County support for the HTRZ Act shifted in March 2022 when the Utah Legislature approved House Bill 462, which specifically targeted Summit County and required the zone be established in Kimball Junction under strict timelines. The law was criticized as a usurpation of local control, much like S.B. 84 this year, and a way to give more freedom to developers without honoring local land use authority. State legislatures said altering the language to be more flexible to appease the county would remove the incentive for officials to do the work.
Summit County adopted a moderate-income housing plan with 10 strategies in September, and debated leaving the HTRZ out of the plan. An HTRZ is intended to promote affordable housing around a public transportation hub, such as the transit center adjacent to the proposed Dakota Pacific development. Half of the developable land inside the zone must have residential uses and 10% must be income-restricted, while the standard in the Snyderville Basin is around 20%.
Staffers ultimately decided to include a statement that the county would examine utilizing the zone for its legality and future impact. The move led to penalties for Summit County through S.B. 84.
Although Wright disagrees with the process that unfolded, he said he is in favor of the end result: more housing for Summit County’s workforce.
He cited data from 2019 estimating around 18,000 workers commute to Summit County nearly every day and the negative impacts that has on the housing stock as well as rental prices. The median price for a single-family home in Park City was valued at around $3.5 million earlier this year.
Wright noted Summit County has done a lot to address affordable housing and listed several projects during his tenure on the County Council, including Silver Creek Village and the Canyons Village development. However, he said things have since slowed down and the county has fallen behind.
“More so now than ever, the Legislature and the governor have a legitimate reason to try to get Summit County to do more with affordable housing. We’ve done a fair amount, but we haven’t done enough,” Wright said.
He added Summit County’s resort industry makes it a “growth engine for low-paying” work without the housing to support new job creation, therefore exporting the problem across the Wasatch Back.
Dakota Pacific has made similar arguments in its court filings, saying there is a severe housing need locally and across the state that forced the state Legislature to take “aggressive action” to address the problem. Marc Stanworth, the CEO of the development firm, has repeatedly decried what he’s characterized as NIMBYism from the opposition.
County Council Chair Roger Armstrong has said the housing crisis is a pretext for the passage of S.B. 84. He indicated there’s a small housing deficit in Summit County with approximately 182 deed-restricted units left to be constructed of the county’s 1,100.
Dakota Pacific is proposing 237 income-restricted units out of 727 total. The development firm has denied county requests to increase the number saying it would not be economically feasible.
Mrazik in mid-April denied Summit County’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented the development firm from building at the Tech Center without county approval or until the lawsuit is resolved.
The hearing on June 15 will determine whether the new state law applies to the Tech Center. Dakota Pacific cannot build its development without county approval if Mrazik rules that S.B. 84 is not applicable. If he finds the law is valid, then hearings will be scheduled regarding the county’s other claims.
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