HIDEOUT, Wasatch County — In a strange twist, Hideout town leaders have reluctantly backed off from their controversial annexation proposal that some have called a “land grab” of 655 acres for commercial development on the other side of the highway from Park City.
And it wasn’t because a judge ordered them to.
Rather, it was a Zoom meeting goof earlier this week that botched a crucial public hearing and forced town officials to vote Friday to repeal their time-sensitive annexation resolution.
Now, the town may have lost its chance to annex the land — if the Utah Legislature in a special session next week repeals the legislation that paved the way for the proposal. The bill, which allows annexations like the one proposed in Hideout to happen without permission from any of the surrounding counties, was misrepresented on the House and Senate floors before it was passed into law, the Deseret News uncovered last month.
“It was extremely disappointing we were not able to hold that meeting,” Councilwoman Chris Baier said in Hideout’s Town Council meeting on Friday.
Under state law, Hideout was required to provide notice of a public hearing within 14 days from its July 9 vote to move forward with the annexation proposal, and that hearing must be held within 30 days of that vote. Wednesday was Hideout’s final chance to hold that hearing, but officials canceled it after technical difficulties flubbed the online meeting.
Town officials apparently accidentally started two separate and simultaneous Zoom meetings while trying to accommodate in-person comments at the Town Hall, the Park Record reported.
“For more than a half hour, the majority of the Town Council was in one meeting while members of the public who had followed the publicly announced link were waiting in another,” the news outlet reported. “Town officials scrambled to rectify the issue for the better part of an hour before deciding that the public’s ability to comment on the issue had been meaningfully hindered.”
Around 7 p.m., a town official announced there were 133 people in line to participate in the meeting, and Hideout Mayor Phil Rubin and Town Council members apologized for the technical error, according to the Park Record.
“Holy crap,” Hideout Town Councilman Kurt Shadle said at one point, swiveling in his chair and putting his hands behind his head, the Park Record reported. He later said the town had no choice but to reschedule the hearing and apologized for wasting the public’s time.
In response to a request for more information about what technical issues led to the meeting’s cancelation and any recordings of what happened, the mayor told the Deseret News in a text message there were no recordings because no meeting occurred and declined to elaborate.
“There was a Zoom failure,” Rubin said. “That’s it.”
The vote to repeal the annexation proposal comes as Hideout remains embroiled in a lawsuit with Summit County, which sought to stop the annexation. Opponents of the annexation say sneaky legislative tactics legally paved the way for a “land grab” for what would be another Kimball Junction-like expansion on the other side of the highway from Park City.
Town officials argue they need more commercial development to employ residents of thousands of future homes already headed for construction in the region and help alleviate Park City traffic.
Summit County also alleges a lobbyist for developers Nate Brockbank and Josh Romney, son of Sen. Mitt Romney, worked outside normal legislative processes to “bait and switch” a bill in March with “custom-made special purpose legislation” eliminating the county consent requirement and restricting the ability of a county to protest such an annexation.
Fourth District Court Judge Jennifer Brown on Aug. 4 granted a temporary restraining order preventing Hideout from annexing while the case was hashed out in court. The judge was initially expected to issue an oral decision Friday, but the ruling was rescheduled to Aug. 21, the day after the Utah Legislature is expected to convene in a special session.
If the Legislature ends up not repealing the legislation, Hideout could still pursue an annexation, but the town would have to restart the entire process. As of now, the temporary restraining order still stands as officials await a ruling from the judge.
Friday, Shadle urged his council colleagues to hit pause, even though he “firmly believes” the commercial development would be “essential” to sustain the region’s growth.
“However, given the controversy surrounding the passage of the legislation ... I believe that Hideout and our neighbors would be best served by pausing on our examination of the annexation of Richardson Flat to wait to see what actions are taken by the Legislature,” Shadle said.
“I think all parties would be best served by letting the Legislature tell us what they intended or didn’t intend,” he continued. “Once that happens, we’ll have a much better visibility of what our town’s rights are, and we can proceed accordingly. And in the interest of getting this right, I urge the council to postpone moving forward on any annexation until we have better visibility into the Legislature’s intent on this bill.”
Town Councilman Jerry Dwinell agreed.
“The last thing we want to do is come across looking like we’re doing something nefarious,” he said. “We don’t honestly know what the Legislature intended. If they intended this to be what was passed, we’d like to move forward. If they repeal it, then they’ve stated what their intent actually was. And we’ll adjust accordingly.”
Park City Mayor Andy Beerman, who was a critic of the annexation and its development fearing it would not help but exacerbate congestion issues in Park City and Summit County, applauded Hideout.
“We’re very encouraged,” Beerman said, acknowledging “tempers flared” over how the issue was handled initially. But he extended an invitation to discuss other solutions with Hideout.
Baier, in response to Beerman’s offer, said she heard through “secondhand accounts you’ve been vehemently opposed to this and have been unbashful in letting everyone know.” She urged him to use his “huge megaphone” as Park City mayor to “make a better effort to protect the reputation of Hideout. Because we are a real town with real (elected leaders) ... and we have real constituents here.”
Brockbank, one of the project’s developers, thanked Hideout officials for “all the hard work you guys have done.”
“We’ve done nothing illegal,” Brockbank added. “I think the Legislature will see that, if they’ve said they think it’s a good law. So let’s just see what they say. If they repeal it, they repeal it. If they don’t, then we need to work together as a community.”