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Conflict of interest seen on Genola subdivision

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GENOLA — A Town Council member failed to disclose a conflict of interest before he voted Wednesday night to lift a moratorium on a subdivision that residents say violates community ordinances.

Last Wednesday, the Town Council discussed a moratorium that had been placed on Genola Meadows subdivision, located at 350 E. 800 North. During the discussion, Councilman Chris Greenwood asked if any council member had a conflict of interest. No one responded, even though Councilman Bryan Draper is the beneficiary of trust deeds on two lots in the 10-lot subdivision, which is being described as a joint venture between the town and Genola Planning Commission Chairman Martin Larson.

"He didn't disclose," Greenwood said. "The policy has been that when you disclose a conflict, you don't vote."

But Draper voted along with Mayor Eric Hazelet and Councilman Michael Vail to lift the moratorium. Councilmen Greenwood and Kendell Ewell voted against the measure.

Draper and Hazelet did not return multiple requests for comment Monday.

The subdivision has been a divisive sticking point for the community over the past few years. Most recently, it raised objections because eight of the 10 lots range in size from 2.08 to 2.31 acres — smaller than the 2.5 acre minimum lot size mandated for the zoning. Genola resident Emily Clinger — who first noticed a for-sale sign near a 2.03-acre lot on 834 N. 350 East a few months ago — said she's concerned town officials are reducing lot sizes without going through proper public notification.

"They are effectively trying the back door approach to get this approved," she said.

Though the subdivision does not hurt town residents financially, Genola resident Sandra Greenwood — no relation to Councilman Greenwood — said they just want to see laws applied to everyone equally.

"Laws keep everything in order," she said. "That's part of the American freedom that we have."

A town ordinance states the minimum lot area for any parcel of land shall be 2.5 acres, except as deemed necessary for public buildings by Town Council. Another ordinance states approval and denial of the plan shall be based on zoning ordinances and other applicable town ordinances.

In an e-mail from late January, Hazelet explained that the ordinance was clarified a long time ago so that roads are dedicated after the lots are drawn up, which in some cases causes the lots to be less than 2.5 acres when not counting the roads. But, by definition, they are still 2.5 acre lots, he said.

Philip Lowry, a lawyer retained by concerned residents in Genola, wrote a letter to town attorney Brett Rich dated March 12 stating the explanation "misstates the law and is unavailing."

"The subdivision clearly violates the ordinances," he said.

Lowery went on to say he thinks the town is "self-dealing" because the town owns two lots and was preparing to sell them to buyers.

"The town, therefore, will realize a direct financial gain by approving the subdivision as it has," he wrote.

He also said he was concerned that Larson, the chairman of the Planning Commission, is the developer of the subdivision. In a previous Planning Commission meeting where a lot size amendment was discussed, Larson readily disclosed his conflict of interest.

At the time Lowery wrote the letter, he stated that concerned residents were prepared to petition the court for a writ of mandamus and a restraining order to undo the subdivision and to stop all sales.

However, now that the moratorium has been lifted, Clinger said they probably won't take that course because of the cost of legal proceedings. She said she's disturbed that some town officials don't seem to obey their own ordinances, including Draper, with his trust deed on two of the lots.

"He does not consider that a conflict of interest?" she asked. "I think I would."

E-mail: jdana@desnews.com