SALT LAKE CITY — The town of Hideout’s controversial annexation proposal is officially on hold — for now.
Fourth District Court Judge Jennifer Brown on Tuesday granted Summit County’s motion for a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit seeking to stop the annexation of about 655 acres of land outside Park City for commercial development, which the county alleges was made possible by “bait-and-switch” legislative maneuvering.
The Deseret News last month uncovered how the legislation thatallowed Hideout’s annexation without permission from any of the surrounding counties was misrepresented to the bill’s own sponsors.
Now, the Utah Legislature may seek a repeal of the bill in a special session expected later this month. But Hideout could move to annex before that repeal, and that’s why Summit County officials went to court.
Summit County officials, in their lawsuit, argued the county would suffer “irreparable harm” if the annexation process is allowed to continue, accusing Hideout and developers Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney, son of Sen. Mitt Romney, of seeking “nothing less than to overturn decades of careful land use planning and community development with noncontiguous land in Summit County they do not own.”
Hideout scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 12 and decision on Aug. 18 in order to thwart any effort by the Legislature to repeal the law at its anticipated Aug. 20 special session, Summit County’s lawsuit states.
“The court finds that Summit County’s reasoning merits a favorable exercise of the court’s discretion to preserve the status quo pending a final determination of rights of the parties, consistent with sound equitable principles, taking into account all facts and circumstances of the case,” the judge’s order states.
The court scheduled a hearing for Aug. 10 to determine whether the temporary restraining order would be dissolved or continued in the form of a preliminary injunction.
Now, Summit County officials will have a chance to “be in front of a judge to prove the case as it’s been laid out” in the lawsuit, said Summit County Manager Tom Fisher.
“We’re very pleased with the results so far, given what we’ve put in front of the judicial system, but it’s one step in the process that we are going to stay vigilant with,” Fisher said. “On the other side of things, we really appreciate being able to work with the Legislature to deal with the special purpose legislation that probably shouldn’t have been enacted in the first place.”
Opponents of the annexation say sneaky legislative tactics legally paved the way for a “land grab” for what would be another Kimball Junction-like expansion on the other side of the highway from Park City.
Despite protests from Summit County, Park City and Wasatch County leaders, Hideout’s Town Council voted in July to move forward with a process to annex the land, in favor of a development partnership with Brockbank and Romney. Town officials argue they need more commercial development to employ residents of thousands of future homes already headed for construction and help alleviate Park City traffic.
The county argues a lobbyist for the developers worked outside normal legislative processes to “bait and switch” a bill in March with “custom-made special purpose legislation” eliminating the county consent requirement and restricting the ability of a county to protest such an annexation.
Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, and Rep. Calvin Mussleman, R-West Haven, told the Deseret News in July that they were told there was consensus over the bill and its changes, and both said they couldn’t recall who represented that to them in the chaos of the Legislature’s final days and hours.
But in a separate interview, property rights lobbyist Mike Ostermiller said he was accountable for that misrepresentation to both Cullimore and Mussleman. He said at the time he believed there was consensus on the bill’s changes, but he may have forgotten to include key partners in the conversations.
Tuesday’s order came ahead of a town hall scheduled for Tuesday night, organized by property owners associations in the area to discuss the annexation with residents and gauge their opinions about the proposal, according to Jeff Sterling, president of Parks Edge homeowner’s association.
Sterling in an interview with the Deseret News, speaking personally and not on behalf of his association, welcomed the temporary restraining order.
“Without the (restraining order), Hideout was legally able to annex the land, and nobody could have stopped them,” Sterling said. “It’s probably the right move at this point to allow the process to play out at the Legislature.”