Something fishy is happening on the eastern edge of the Jordanelle Reservoir. The town council of Hideout—a town in Wasatch County of roughly 1,000 residents—unanimously voted on measures allowing them to annex land in neighboring Summit County near Quinn’s Junction and Richardson Flat. With some observers characterizing the surprise move as brazen heist of undeveloped land, officials in Summit County and Park City are seeking recourse.
Just to clarify, a municipality is attempting to annex unincorporated land across a county line without that county’s approval. If this sounds like madness, that’s because it is. However, it seems the move is legal, at least for the time being. During the Utah Legislature’s recent special session, Sen. Kirk Cullimore introduced a substitute bill to H.B. 359 that contained what he characterized as technical changes. In reality, the substitutions appear to have been custom tailored to allow Hideout to annex and develop a tract of land in Summit County that had been set aside for open space and recreation.
The appearance of impropriety is enhanced once you learn the developers behind the move are Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney, the son of current U.S. Sen., former Republican Presidential Candidate, and recent resistance participant Mitt Romney. Brockbank and Romney had previously requested a zoning change to allow for mixed-use development on the land, which Park City opposed. Thanks to the legislative changes snuck through during a special session, that opposition may be rendered moot. It would be charitably described as naïve to overlook how political connections could help guide the direction of backroom dealings.
Hideout’s annexation and development plan are part of the town’s new General Plan, which passed in February 2019. The General Plan’s goals couldn’t be met in the town’s existing limits or under the approved Annexation Area, so they went back to the drawing board with developers to rewrite Utah state law to suit their needs. They succeeded. Conveniently for Hideout, the sprawling Superfund site with contaminated soil from the area’s mining past that is adjacent to the proposed annexation was carved out of the plans and will remain in Summit County’s hands.
The area’s two representatives in the statehouse, Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber and Sen. Ron Winterton, R-Roosevelt both voted against H.B. 359. Sen. Cullimore, who introduced the changes to the bill is a republican representing Sandy. Perhaps recognizing his role in a growing controversy, Sen. Cullimore said in an interview he was looking into whether the broad consensus of support behind the bill’s changes had been misrepresented to him. If other senators feel the same as Cullimore suggests he may, the Utah Legislature could repeal the law. Discussions about the possibility of repealing H.B. 359 during a special session in August have already begun.
Another obstacle to annexation and development coming to fruition is the negotiated agreement between Park City and the land’s previous owner Talisker Development to not build on the property. Talisker has since gone bankrupt and the land is in pending foreclosure, which means the courts will likely decide whether the previous agreement would apply to the new owners as well.
The developers are planning a Kimball Junction-size development on the annexed land. With large-scale development projects underway or in the pipeline at Mayflower Mountain Resort and the bases of Park City Resort and Deer Valley, the City and County opposed further significant development that would exacerbate traffic issues and add to creeping sprawl in the area. Thus far officials from other jurisdictions including Park City, Summit County and Wasatch County have expressed opposition to the annexation plan and to the rushed and secretive processes under which it was passed.
Whatever the ultimate outcome for the Hideout annexation, it would behoove lawmakers to implement a more transparent process for this and future annexation efforts. Handcuffing local governments while politically connected developers scoop up land stinks of favoritism corruption. I’d like to think Utah is better than this. Let’s see if we are.
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