While you were having dinner, a fierce battle was being fought. On one side stood D.R. Horton, the largest home builder in the United States. On the other side stood four members of your County Council. At stake was a project called the Discovery Core, a proposed housing development above the Weilenmann school. D.R. Horton, the developer, has wanted to build over a hundred units of housing in the area for over 3 years. However, this development required roads to be steeper than the County (and national standards) view as safe and houses that are too close to the road.
When this development was last brought in front of the County Council, the Council told the developer that they had better come back with different plans because the exceptions they were asking for weren’t valid. Instead the developer came back and decided to threaten the entire community. The company’s representative told the County Council, and 100 members of the Community in attendance, that unless they agreed to let them go forward they would redraw their plans and make a development that legally complied with County rules but that would:
- Remove a public park from their plans
- Close off open space so that the public couldn’t access it
- Make row houses that were not as visually appealing
- Remove trail connections
- Provide no backyards for the houses
A few words come to mind to describe the situation, but Council Member Roger Armstrong described it best: extortion. The representative from D.R. Horton continually told the Council to go ahead and deny the exceptions because the corporation wasn’t bluffing. He said the company had pulled the ripcord and the County had 45 days or they would develop something that would be unappealing and no one could stop it. At one point, with over 100 community members present, and many ready to speak out against the project, he suggested pushing back the meeting so he didn’t have to listen to “3 hours” of the community speaking out against the project.
Speak out, the community did. People spoke about safety issues,the danger to children at Weilenmann School, impact on property taxes, the inability of busses to traverse the slopes, and lack of walkability. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the people and the Council — but tonight was not one of them.
Council member Dave Ure spoke about driving around the County and the danger of steep roads. He also contemplated whether the lack of setbacks made driveways too short for the average car. Roger Armstrong first commented that he has never seen such a brazen threat to a judicial body as he saw tonight. He then brought up the criteria required for approving a special exception. Basically a project needs to meet the following criteria: it includes increased public safety, it better meets the Development Code and the General Plan of the County, and there is no other option. He said that this development meets none of these, pointing out that the developer had threatened the County with building a lesser-option which meant that there was another option. He said that not only does he not want to approve this but that he thinks THEY CAN’T approve this.
The best comments came from Council member Claudia McMullin who started off saying that she had never wanted to swear at someone in a Council Meeting so much as she did the representative from D.R. Horton, but that she wouldn’t. In the end, she did, and received a resounding ovation from the crowd in attendance. She said that the developer wasn’t serious when they came to the meeting and gave them “bullshit” answers. She said “they wasted everyone’s time.” Council Chair Kim Carson agreed and quickly moved it to vote. The Council resoundingly voted against allowing the special exceptions.
This is one of those rare nights when everything seemed good and right in the world. The County Planning and Engineering groups had recommended against the development because there were too many unanswered questions. The County Council was concerned about public safety and generally was offended by the applicant’s arrogance. The public, overall, didn’t like a thing about the development. And the developer’s lawyer allowed it all to happen, because he acted like an arrogant ass.
D.R. Horton will be back and will continue to press the issue. They succeed by outliving, outlasting, and outspending their opponents. But on this one night in May, little Summit County and its County Council Defenders fought off the giant for at least a few more days.