Judge issues order that halts — for now — big development near Park City

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The town of Hideout is trying to annex open space on the outskirts of Park City near Richardson Flat, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

A judge has halted the town of Hideout’s bid to scoop up several hundred acres near Park City in Summit County for a large commercial development.

Summit County sued to block the annexation that county officials have called a “land grab,” and on Tuesday, 4th District Judge Jennifer Brown granted a temporary restraining order to the county. The court will now hold a hearing on Aug. 17 to determine whether the order will be dissolved or become a preliminary injunction.

“I consider this just being one step in the process,” said Summit County manager Tom Fisher. “We’re going to have to stay vigilant and keep working with the Legislature closely.”

The Utah Legislature initially passed an eleventh-hour bill, HB359, last session allowing cities and towns to cross county lines and add land to their municipalities without consultation or consent from the county. That left Summit County with little option but to go to court.

Legislators now say they were misled by a lobbyist for the developers — Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney, son of U.S. Senator Mitt Romney — about the late amendment to the legislation, passed with almost no debate on the second-to-last night of the session. Lawmakers plan to repeal the provision in a special session on Aug. 20, but Summit County will need to persuade the court to issue an injunction first.

Hideout had scheduled a hearing on the annexation proposal for Aug. 12 and a vote on the matter for Aug. 18, before the Legislature could act.

“The annexation is in the best interest of the citizens and town [of Hideout] in terms of having a … master-planned development that will provide services, housing and jobs, instead of merely all sacred sagebrush,” said Bruce Baird, attorney for Brockbank and Romney.

On Tuesday, Brown wrote that, if Hideout’s annexation proceeded, Summit County would face irreparable harm and that “if Summit County’s statements [to the court] are factually accurate, then there is a substantial likelihood of success upon the merits.”

Daniel Dansie, an attorney for Hideout, said the town is currently preparing a response to the order.

“We continue to maintain that we have complied with all the applicable rules and statutes in connection with this annexation process,” Dansie said.” We’re surprised that the judge entered the order so quickly.”

The land in question is known as Richardson Flat, a parcel just outside of Park City’s boundaries that the city had wanted to maintain as open space to limit sprawl. The county had zoned it for limited development.

Brockbank and Romney had tried to have the land rezoned by the county before withdrawing the application when Hideout moved to annex the property. The North Park mixed-use development, the county said, would include more than 200,000 square feet of retail commercial space, 100,000 square feet of office space and 3,500 residential units, which would bring an estimated 10,000 residents to the area and the town of about 975 people.

In a motion filed by Summit County’s attorneys last week, the county argued that the annexation would overturn “decades of careful land use planning” and that it was “critical” to preserve the rural nature of the eastern portion of the county to act as a buffer to more urban Park City and Synderville Basin developments.

“Local land use authority is a pretty clear tenant within state law. We have spent decades doing public processes ... to determine what should happen within that area,” said Fisher, the county manager. “The town of Hideout doesn’t have any responsibility to follow that.”

The county also called Brockbank and Romney’s dealings with Hideout officials and legislators a “bait and switch.”

The complaint further alleged that Hideout had conspired with Brockbank and Romney in a series of secret meetings to pass the legislation and keep the county and the public in the dark until the deal could be consummated.

“To be successful, Hideout had to hide their intent and actions … to prevent any aggrieved party like Summit County from taking action to stop the plan,” the attorneys wrote in their motion.

Baird, the developers’ attorney, said both the town and his clients had complied with open meetings laws and did nothing wrong.

“We’re confident that when the court hears the facts and the law, the court will … let us proceed” with the annexation, Baird said.

— Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.