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New bill would undo 2023 law at center of Dakota Pacific lawsuit

Republican Summit County Rep. Kera Birkeland speaks on the Utah House floor during the 2024 General Session.
Utah House of Representatives
Republican Summit County Rep. Kera Birkeland speaks on the Utah House floor during the 2024 General Session.

A Summit County state representative has introduced a bill repealing last year’s state law intended to allow a controversial Kimball Junction development.

HB 135, also known as “County Land Use Amendments,” would undo the 2023 law Summit County called “unconstitutional, legislative cronyism.”

State lawmakers passed last year’s law to allow developer Dakota Pacific Real Estate to build housing on its land in Kimball Junction, despite its development agreement with Summit County only allowing office space.

The county sued and won an early judgment, but county councilmembers say a state lawmaker asked for the parties to pause litigation and renegotiate.

That’s the backdrop behind HB 135, introduced by state Rep. Kera Birkeland Jan. 16. “Birkeland introduced this bill for Summit County,” a county staff report states.

HB 135 crosses out each line of the 2023 law that would have allowed Dakota Pacific the development rights it's still seeking.

Two weeks after being introduced, the bill has made it to the House Rules Committee and not been debated on the House floor.

“I don't have a lot of high hopes that bill will pass, but it's one we're tracking and looking at,” County Manager Shayne Scott said on Local News Hour Jan. 30.

Part of what the Summit County government disliked about last year’s law is it would require officials to designate Dakota Pacific’s land in Kimball a “housing and transit reinvestment zone.”

HTRZs allows a government to divert some of the taxes a development generates to a developer for a fixed amount of time. After that, governments collect the taxes normally.

Temporarily giving up tax revenue to the private sector can finance unprofitable but important parts of a development, like affordable housing or public infrastructure.

But when Summit County sued to stop the HTRZ legislation from greenlighting the Dakota Pacific development and won the early ruling in June, that ruling said the law’s language doesn’t apply to the county at all.

And Scott said the county still wants access to the HTRZ tool, just with more permissive language. That way, Summit County has more control over what happens within the zone.

“In fact, we've been asked to supply some possible changes to legislation for the HTRZ,” Scott said. “And we've done that with some of our legislators.”

The Summit County Council is holding special meetings with Dakota Pacific to find a solution for developing the company’s 50 acres in west Kimball Junction.

They’ve discussed collaborating to reduce traffic, but they haven’t discussed collaborating on a financial tool like the HTRZ yet.

There will be biweekly meetings before a public hearing Feb. 15. The council is scheduled to vote on whether to amend its development agreement with Dakota Pacific Feb. 20.

The Utah legislature’s general session ends March 1.

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