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Summit County sues Dakota Pacific and state of Utah over ‘unconstitutional, legislative cronyism’

Utah Public Radio
The Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Summit County is suing Dakota Pacific, the state of Utah and 50 unnamed defendants over controversial legislation that could force development at Kimball Junction.

Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson filed a lawsuit Wednesday that says Senate Bill 84 violates the state constitution and amounts to “legislative cronyism.”

State lawmakers passed the bill during the 2023 General Session last month. County officials say the bill targets them, seizes local land use control and subverts county processes.

Language substituted into S.B. 84 five minutes before it passed the Utah House gives Dakota Pacific the rights to build a mixed-use development in Kimball Junction without county input or approval.

“The idea that the Legislature can unilaterally cancel any contract for the benefit of a private party is a dangerous precedent and one that the people of the State of Utah and the other two coequal branches of government should reject.”
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson

The bill was sent to Gov. Spencer Cox Monday, and awaits his action. He can sign or veto it; if he takes no action, the bill becomes law on May 2—60 days after the legislature adjourned.

The county is suing in Utah’s third district court against Dakota Pacific Real Estate, the state government and 50 John Does.

The lawsuit alleges “DPRE and its lobbyists plunder the legislative process.” But the developer has contended that Summit County is not doing its part to solve a statewide housing crisis.

“It is disappointing that members of the Utah Legislature believed a false narrative about Summit County without ever speaking to members of county leadership, and instead conferred a private benefit on a specific developer in violation of an existing contract,” Olson said in a statement. “The idea that the Legislature can unilaterally cancel any contract for the benefit of a private party is a dangerous precedent and one that the people of the State of Utah and the other two coequal branches of government should reject.”

The Summit County Council could have taken action on Dakota Pacific's proposal at its meeting Wednesday but postponed it. Council Chair Roger Armstrong said the council can't continue until the courts rule on the lawsuit.

"This is an unfortunate process," Armstrong said Wednesday. "We were undertaking, in good faith, a process to process this application—to do so in a transparent way. And instead of following a straight-ahead, traditional process, we were hit with legislation that was was cooked up on the side. And unfortunately, it's mangled what would have been our normal process."

Lawsuits sometimes include multiple claims for the court to rule on, some of which can be similar or overlap.

In this case, there are eight claims that name different defendants:

  1. that S.B 84 conflicts with the county's existing contract with Dakota Pacific;
  2. that the bill may nullify that contract entirely;
  3. that the bill does not apply to the tech park land at all;
  4. that Summit County can comply with state law without further development;
  5. that the court must clarify the county’s obligations regarding the developer’s proposal;
  6. that S.B. 84 violates constitutional protections around due process;
  7. that the bill is unconstitutional spot zoning;
  8. and that Dakota Pacific did not deal fairly and in good faith.

In broad terms, the county wants the court to clarify which applies to the tech center: S.B. 84 or the existing development contract with Dakota Pacific.
The county wants the court to declare the relevant language in the bill unconstitutional and prevent it from being applied to the tech center. Summit County is also seeking damages from Dakota Pacific.

The developer did not respond to requests for comment in time for this report, nor did Sen. Wayne Harper (R-Salt Lake)—who sponsored S.B. 84—nor did Rep. Casey Snider (R-Cache)—who substituted the relevant language into the bill.

This is a developing story.

Updated: March 15, 2023 at 5:36 PM MDT
This report was updated to include a statement from Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson and comments from Summit County Council Chair Roger Armstrong.
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