Thursday, November 24, 2005

Let's Be Careful Out There

Neil Lindberg passed along an email yesterday alerting us to a decision released by the Utah Supreme Court, finally settling the years-long case regarding the battle between the Croxford home and Fort Union Family Center, developed by Hermes Associates.

Stories in today's Trib and DesNews also detail the story and some of the history. Briefly, the then-Salt Lake County Commissioners Brent Overson and Randy Horiuchi worked with Hermes to develop the Family Center by approving an RDA and associated financing, and approving permits for construction of the project. Commissioner Jim Bradley voted against the project. The owners of the Croxford home refused to sell their old home and property to Hermes, and strenuously objected to the county's approval of the permit, saying it violated the requirements for setbacks, landscaping and access and how it affected their home. Commissioners approved the project anyway.

The project went ahead, but the family filed suit, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court on a couple of different issues. In 1996, the Court threw out a $4.3 million tax subsidy offered to the developers for expansion of the project. In 2oo1, the court ruled that the developers had deliberately encroached on the family's property, and that the county commissioners hadn't followed their own rules when the approved the special exception. On remand to the district court, that court ruled that the developers had been so egregious in their actions that it was only appropriate that they be required to move the walls of the existing building (which houses a Bed, Bath & Beyond store and a Ross Dress for Less business) to conply with the required 20 foot setback, that they landscape the area, and improve the street with curb and gutter and other improvements.

I remember in planning conferences the admonishments we got from local attorneys about how Salt Lake County had not followed its own obvious rules, and how the courts would surely nail us every time if we didn't. Salt Lake County became a rather bad example for us all. The series of court rulings, culminating in this week's final decision, reiterated that stand.

The Trib reports that former Commissioner Brent Overson regrets the action he voted for back then, saying, "The Hermes [redevelopment decision] was the biggest mistake I ever made in my political career. It was bad from the onset. The Supreme Court decision set right the things that were done wrong."

However, Randy Horiuchi, the other Commissioner who voted for the project and who is still a sitting elected county official, said, "Back in the early 1990s, we felt the project met all the legal bounds and ordinances." Really? "We also felt it was important for the county's tax base. Every decision we made was in lockstep with legal advice for our attorneys." Ah, so it was the lawyers' fault.

Certainly an object lesson for us all.

Add-on, November 28: Today's Trib editorializes on this issue.


At 1:59 PM, Blogger Student-Builder said...

Does the original developer have to pay for the building re-models and street improvements, or do the current tenants? I am assuming that the tenants are only renters, so it must be on the developer’s dime.

At the University, we learned about this case when the States Property Rights Ombudsman visited. I believe justice has been done, but it is sad that it took so much of the property owner’s personal money to fight it.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Wilf said...


Yes, I believe one of the news stories said that Hermes has sold the project, but are still liable for the results of the suit.

By the way, fellow commentors, I've turned off the comment moderation, and hope to control the spam comments by simply deleting manually (hopefully it won't become too burdensome).


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