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Summit County advised Park City School District on construction permit process for years before work stoppage

JRES work stopped in July.jpg
KPCW
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Construction remains on hold Jeremy Ranch Elementary School.

Summit County, the Park City School District and the district’s contractor, Hughes Construction, are trying to work out their differences regarding who’s in charge of the $13 million expansion of Jeremy Ranch Elementary School. School starts in two weeks, but discussions about permit requirements that have stalled the project started years ago.

The plan to expand Jeremy Ranch Elementary School and other campuses grew out of a multi-year school master planning process that included school district employees, families, consultants and government officials.

Tom Fisher, who was Summit County manager for seven years before leaving last month for a position in Colorado, said this week that he was personally involved in that process. He said he met regularly with school district officials to participate in master planning and research that preceded the $79 million facilities bond voters approved in 2021.

Fisher said he and other county officials consistently represented what would be legally required to expand schools under county code and assured the district the county would help them navigate the process.

Despite that, the district broke ground at Jeremy Ranch in June without a conditional use permit, called a CUP, leading to a notice of violation and stop work order July 20 and a citation being issued when work continued after the order was posted at the construction site.

Summit County engineer Steve Dennis said he started communicating with the district’s consultant, architect and engineer in March.

Dennis told KPCW that infrastructure, stormwater, parking lot and road changes must all meet county standards and be constructed under a permit from the engineering department.

“We read state statutes, see that a development permit can be required, and that's kind of the expectation of the public through our public process to get those development permits issued," Dennis said. "We believe it's fairly clear that the county can require a conditional use permit and then with that some of the infrastructure standards apply for example, stormwater.”

Summit County Councilor Glenn Wright said Thursday the current sticking point is that Hughes Construction maintains that the project is exempt from county permit requirements.

“They have a contractor who says ‘no I don't have to do that.’ Well, we have enforcement abilities if they decide to they can try to go ahead and do that without permits,” Wright said.

Emails obtained through a public records request show a lot of back and forth between the entities questioning county code. In one exchange, project engineer Nichole Luthi of Meridien Engineering tells Dennis she believes all she needs to provide is a storm drain plan. Dennis replies that the county planning department is responsible for land use and buildings. Luthi then tells Dennis she believes the project requires a state permit, not a county permit.

The emails KPCW reviewed don’t represent all of the communication between the parties involved; some were withheld due to attorney-client privilege.

An email dated May 2 contains a formal letter from Dennis to Luthi with links to an online CUP application, a construction mitigation plan, and information about requiring stormwater calculations and pollution prevention plans and noxious weed plans.

None of the emails KPCW obtained contain communication to or from Hughes Construction.

Joe McAllister is Hughes Construction’s in-house lawyer. He told KPCW this week that he wanted to comment on the record about the dispute but needed to clear it with the school district first. He didn’t respond to a subsequent request for comment.

School district officials didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this report. Among the questions officials didn’t answer was who in the district is overseeing the Jeremy Ranch expansion.

The stormwater management plan is important here, Dennis said, because of the project’s location 100 feet from East Canyon Creek.

“The county’s ordinance is written and has specific requirements about increasing the amount of runoff from an area through development," he said. "That's one aspect of stormwater, is adhering to the ordinance and the other is making sure that your construction activity doesn't pollute the local creek in this case.”

The county approved the district’s stormwater management plan last week.

Dennis said that on August 1, the county sent the school district what’s called a limited scope agreement, which would permit some construction at Jeremy Ranch to occur in the interest of the school community’s health, safety and welfare. Among other things, that would ensure that a temporary school bus drop-off area is ready to go when school starts August 17.

As of midday Thursday, county Community Development Director Pat Putt said the district had not responded to that proposal.

The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission is set to consider the district’s CUP application at its meeting August 23rd. If that’s approved, construction will resume, a month behind schedule and up against approaching cold weather.

Michelle, who joined KPCW in 2021, arrived in Utah in 2018 by way of Massachusetts, where the skiing was icy and the mosquitoes formidable. A former daily newspaper reporter and editor (at the Visalia Times-Delta in CA) and columnist (at The Cohasset Mariner in MA), Michelle has been a writer and editor for decades. She holds a journalism degree from CSU Fresno and has worked as a journalist, freelance writer and web content creator, reporting extensively on education and youth along with general assignment and breaking news.