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Summit County, Dakota Pacific disagree on their history

Hundreds turned out for a public input session about Dakota Pacific Real Estate's proposal to build 1,100 homes at Kimball Junction in December 2021.
Alexander Cramer
About 1,000 turned out for a December 2021 public input session in person or online about Dakota Pacific Real Estate's Kimball Junction development. The company says that was when the narrative turned against it.

Dakota Pacific lawyer Richard Burbidge called Summit County a liar, but the county tells a different story.

Summit County is in a legal fight with Dakota Pacific Real Estate, over a proposed mixed-use development at Kimball Junction, but the parties’ attorneys are fighting a parallel battle in the court of public opinion.

The county sued because it alleges Dakota Pacific lobbied state legislators to pass Senate Bill 84, which could allow the development on land zoned for a tech park.

But the developer argues it didn’t step outside the bounds of the normal process; instead, it tells a story of being lured into a bad purchase by promises of development.

At a court hearing Tuesday, the company’s lawyer said the county asked Dakota Pacific to draw up plans for a mixed-use community which would better utilize the mostly-vacant space in Kimball Junction.

“When [the county] files a complaint claiming that the development agreement asks for, and it wants, a tech center, it is spreading an incredible lie with this community,” Burbidge said.

Summit County’s attorneys didn’t directly address that point, instead focusing on the legal matter at stake in the hearing.

Their complaint does discuss the potential benefits of tech jobs diversifying the economy, to lessen the negative impact climate change will have on ski tourism.

But that's the evidence Dakota Pacific’s attorneys point to when they say the county now wants a tech park.

Dakota Pacific CEO Marc Stanworth feels like he’s the one who’s been bait-and-switched.

“We had multiple meetings with county staff who were being informed by the county council,” Stanworth said. “We had meetings directly with county council members, talking about what they wanted for it.”

But planning commissions are appointed bodies beholden to development code. The code here is the Kimball Junction Neighborhood Plan.

If a project conforms to the code, it can move along to the county council, whose elected officials always have the veto power.

Alluding to that fact, Summit County Council Chair Roger Armstrong disputes Dakota Pacific’s narrative, which asserts the developer was lied to.

“DPRE’s arguments that its amended development plan for Kimball Junction was essentially pre-approved by the County due to the adoption of the Kimball Junction neighborhood section of the General Plan is patently false and predictably manipulative,” Armstrong said in a statement.

Even Stanworth admits what changed things was the public pushback at the end of 2021, when the council heard his firm’s proposal.

“This furor can come off as fairly elitist,” he said. “And I don't think that's the average Summit County individual. I think that there's a faction who just has the ability to organize.”

But he objects to the idea that the public pushback is exactly what caused Dakota Pacific to seek an insurance policy at the state level: S.B. 84.

“I think that there has been a lot of eyeballs on Summit County and on this project for quite some time,” Stanworth said. “This is not something that just came up three, six months ago. [State legislators have] been watching the way that the broader state issues are unfolding.”

That broader state issue is the very real housing crisis, which Dakota Pacific has maintained it wants to help solve.

County officials have countered that the ratio of affordable housing units is just not high enough to make a positive impact. That is, more commercial units and high-income residents will need workers to serve them.

The developer says making anything more than 32.6% of the units affordable won’t turn a profit.

The two parties will face off again in court in June.

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