1/4-acre property ignites heated allegations, lawsuit in this small Utah city

The Cache County assessor who brought a lawsuit against the North Logan City Council is involved in a yearslong heated dispute with the council over his quarter-acre property.

The Cache County assessor who brought a lawsuit against the North Logan City Council is involved in a yearslong heated dispute with the council over his quarter-acre property. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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NORTH LOGAN — A judge has ordered the North Logan City Council to publicly disclose the recordings of 18 closed meetings that were conducted under "executive session," because it was not following proper procedures required under the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.

But the finding of "illegal meetings" by the court is just part of the latest skirmish in an ongoing political and private clash between current and former North Logan officials, swirling around a seemingly insignificant quarter-acre plot of land.

The judge's order was issued as a result of a lawsuit filed in August by Cache County Assessor Brett Robinson, which he brought against the city as a private citizen.

The May 29 decision gives North Logan a month to publish the records, after the city "failed to provide sufficient notice of a closed meeting," failed to announce the reasons, location and votes in the public meetings that authorized the closures, according to 1st District Judge Spencer Walsh's order.

"It's very concerning, I think even egregious what they have done," Robinson told KSL.com. Yet Robinson himself was likely the focus of the discussions during many of those closed-door executive sessions.

And North Logan Mayor Lyndsay Peterson believes the judge ruled on a "procedural, technical and semantic issue."

"Robinson has painted the existence of a closed session as evidence of impropriety, and I think it's actually the exact opposite," the mayor said.

Closed sessions in City Council mean that the council is following the public meetings act, Peterson said, "because we're knowingly creating a record that can be audited by the courts."

"The far easier thing to do," she said, "would be to have these sorts of deliberations outside of City Council."

That quarter-acre lot

According to Robinson, the dates in question, from February 2022 to August 2023, are just some of the "many meetings" when the city violated the law regarding closed sessions. He contends that the dates were the "climax" of these executive sessions, but they also coincide with a private conflict Robinson had with the city.

"In at least 14 of the 18 closed meetings, the North Logan City Council discussed ongoing disputes with Robinson," according to court documents, and the disclosure of the requested sessions will also allow Robinson the opportunity to hear what officials were saying about him behind closed doors.

"I'm a partner in a property, and they tried to take it," he said.

Robinson and his business partner Brad Crookston, a former North Logan city councilman, used to work together on the city's planning commission and own a property adjacent to 1300 E. 2500 North that the city says it was looking to use in a road expansion project.

It's a small quarter-acre lot on the outskirts of a three-house subdivision the two built and now live in, but acts as a kind of gateway into a back lot of undeveloped land. As long as the men own that land, their backyards could remain as open fields. But their position as gatekeeper has caused problems for the city and the owner of the fields.

The issue came to a head at City Council meetings during the summer of 2022, when a resolution was being considered to take the small plot using eminent domain. Peterson told the council that discussions of real estate had escalated "into telling falsehoods and attacking character."

Looking back, Peterson told KSL.com, "I was six months into my term as mayor, and it's a really jarring thing in public service to experience that sort of vitriol."

The mayor outlined the history of the conflict for the public record in a meeting on July 6, 2022, in what Robinson called "a 15-minute tirade." Peterson said it's the first time the city "has gone this far down this path of compelling the sale of this property."

The mayor made serious accusations against the two men.

She accused Robinson and Crookston of trading on their official positions in the planning commission to torpedo the sale and development of the fields in back of their homes.

Robinson, "a residential appraiser, had been speaking to interested real estate agents and parties and representing to them that the property could not be developed. At least one of these conversations was video recorded," Peterson told the council. Her statements were published in the meeting minutes, and the full recording is on YouTube.

In one instance, the mayor claims Robinson and Crookston put in a low offer for the 7.5 acres behind their homes, but the owner rejected it, accepting a better offer from a different party. A closing date was set, but the owner was surprised when the prospective buyer asked to be let out of the contract, Peterson said in the City Council meeting.

According to the mayor, the prospective buyer was told by Crookston, allegedly on behalf of the city, that he couldn't develop the property and that Robinson and Crookston "would not allow right-of-way access," essentially blocking development of the fields.

Just a warning or acting in bad faith?

Peterson said the neighbor had to take his property off the market until an authorized agent of the city could assure him that the property was "in fact developable," and even looked into bringing a lawsuit against the two "for intentionally interfering with the sale of the property."

"We thought we were doing them a favor to warn them," Robinson told KSL.com when asked about the mayor's comments. "The property owners at the time had listed the property as developable and our concern was that they were misleading a potential buyer."

A buyer would have to acquire the pair's parcel to develop their own land, because the sewer would have to run through the property, Robinson said.

The larger plot was finally sold to North Logan resident Byron Lopez, who hoped to build a house for himself and for his mother. He met with Robinson and Crookston but was surprised when they expressed "an unwillingness to sell the quarter-acre property," saying the small unbuildable parcel was worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars," according to Lopez, who submitted a statement to the council during the same meeting.

"By the end of my conversation with them I honestly thought they were not acting in good faith," Lopez said in the statement. "I felt powerless to do anything."

Over the course of a few years, the pair was given numerous offers for their plot, knowing that it was destined to be part of an expanded roadway, according to the mayor. She claimed that, as planning commissioners, they were the ones to approve the transportation master plan that included the road expansion, so they knew the eminent domain action was coming.

This claim is contradicted by North Logan community development director Scott Perkes, who told KSL.com that "no additional expansion" to the road in question "has been needed or contemplated by the city since the road's original conception" in the 1970s.

The meeting minutes the mayor referenced, from 2013, make no mention of that road expansion in the long list of issues discussed.

Eminent domain passes, is later revoked

Attorney Brett Chambers, representing both Crookston and Robinson, said during the meeting that the city was "using public funds for an unquestionably private purpose," and had no right to take the property, because it lacked "an actual, specific timeline, specific plan of what it's going to do with that roadway."

Crookston spoke at the meeting and called the mayor's allegations "disinformation," saying they only ever got offers from the city and Lopez. His claims were challenged in a separate public comment by a woman who said there were other offers on the property. She said she knew because they came from her brokerage.

"There were a lot of very strong allegations and insinuations, and respectfully, defamatory comments that were made in the background that was provided to this body," Chambers said.

He added, "I am actually shocked that this occurred."

Robinson said the events presented "were not facts, they were alleged things. They were not true," and that the mayor used a meeting to "disparage my character and my neighbor Brad Crookston."

At the end of the heated back and forth, the resolution to use eminent domain on the property passed unanimously.

Nine months later, however, it was revoked by the City Council without fanfare. The only information given at the time was that the city intended to refile once funding was secured.

Now, the eminent domain issue may reignite, with the court ordering North Logan to "publicly disclose recordings of the aforementioned illegally closed meetings within 20 days."

The mayor says the city will continue to litigate the matter in the court, and that an appeal is "certainly on the table."

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