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John Hollenhorst ReportingState Sen. Dave Thomas, Asst. Summit County Attorney: "It's unfortunate that the legal system is being used for these kind of purposes. But we will continue to defend the county."
A torrent of accusations and a 150 million dollar lawsuit have erupted in Summit County over the thorny issue of real estate development around Park City. Property owners are accusing county officials of racketeering, thievery, and Mafia-like tactics. But county officials say it's a case of powerful developers and property owners trying to intimidate public officials to avoid doing what's right.
The racketeering lawsuit was filed in federal court this morning by many of the same combatants who have been battling for two years. The fundamental issue is how far the county can go in forcing developers to do things that benefit the public.
Development versus open space, tensions have swirled over the issue for years. Now owners and developers are upping the ante. Their lawsuit accuses county officials of criminal racketeering.
Mike Hutchings, Attorney for Owners & Developers: "Alleging that they have been committing over a number of years the crimes of extortion, under the federal statute, theft by extortion under Utah law, mail fraud and several other crimes."
They claim the county charges developers illegal fees and requires expensive amenities like open-space, trails, and low-density construction.
Bruce Baird, Attorney for Owners & Developers: "The primary difference between Summit County and the mafia is that when the mafia extorts money out of people, they don't do it in writing and they don't brag about it in public."
County officials deny the charges. They say many of the same development interests have refused to participate in open public approval processes. Instead they've waged war with nine lawsuits over the last two years.
State Sen. Dave Thomas, Asst. Summit County Attorney: "They have never prevailed in court yet. And we don't anticipate that they will."
Property owners say county demands on developers amount to stealing.
Bob Irvine, Property Owner: "We spend most of our time in the planning commission meetings talking about what benefits are we going to provide for the community. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of hearing about what benefit this community needs."
One of those involved in filing the lawsuit says the county asks for more and more goodies, and less and less units. But the county officials say they think that issue of housing density is the heart of the problem.
State Sen. Dave Thomas: "They want to intimidate public officials into giving up. In this case what they want is increased density for development purposes."
Bruce Baird: "Sometimes you have to hit the mule over the head with a two-by-four to get their attention."
The lawsuit seeks more than 50 million dollars in damages, which could be tripled if the racketeering charges stick. County officials say the criminal terminology is pure theatrics from developers. They say everything the county has done is within the law.