Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Ruling looms in Crown Ranch suit

Sun Valley defending decision to deny controversial 13-lot development

Express Staff Writer

After stagnating for nearly a year, an unusual lawsuit that has pitted the developers of Crown Ranch subdivision in Elkhorn against the city of Sun Valley might soon be resolved.

The case—which was revived last fall after it appeared a resolution had been reached—went before a 5th District Court judge Tuesday, March 22, in Hailey. No ruling was issued Tuesday but one is expected in the coming weeks.

Nonetheless, Sun Valley City Attorney Rand Peebles has predicted that a decision against the plaintiff, Crown Point Development, could prompt an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, possibly delaying a final ruling for months.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by Crown Point Development after the city denied its April 2003 application to subdivide a 3.3-acre parcel at Crown Ranch into 13 lots. The case has evolved into an example of just how complex the high-stakes give and take of planning decisions in Sun Valley can become.

The original Crown Point development plan called for 13 townhouses—all greater than 3,400 square feet—to be built along Crown Ranch Road, which branches off the southern section of Morningstar Road. The project was submitted as Phase Five of Crown Ranch.

The Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission in May 2003 recommended the City Council approve the subdivision and endorsed the design of the project by a 3-2 vote.

However, the Sun Valley City Council in July 2003 unanimously upheld two separate appeals opposing the P&Z's approval of the design of the project. At the same time, council members voted unanimously to deny the related subdivision application to establish 13 lots on the parcel.

Pursuant to that decision, representatives for Crown Point Development in August 2003 submitted a new application to the city seeking approval for the creation of only 11 lots and the construction of 11 townhouses.

Weeks later, attorneys for Crown Point filed a lawsuit that sought to have the 5th District Court review the City Council's decision to deny the original plan. The complaint called the city's decision "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, P&Z members declined to process the second Crown Ranch application for 11 units, saying they did not want to do so while the lawsuit was pending.

In considering the lawsuit, 5th District Court Judge Barry Wood in May 2004 asked the city to more clearly define its legal reasoning for denying the original application.

City Council members in June 2004 then voted to direct the P&Z to review the scaled-down plan for 11 new townhouses at Crown Ranch, effectively tabling the lawsuit.

That decision was made with the consent of the development group's principal, Lane Monroe. Monroe and his attorney, Evan Robertson, suggested they would eventually drop their lawsuit against the city if they could gain approval for the revised, 11-unit plan.

Eventually, in September 2004, the P&Z approved the proposed 11-lot plan.

Then, last October, Crown Point Development rescinded its 11-lot application. Peebles later urged the developer not to "throw away" its approval from the P&Z, but he was unsuccessful and the lawsuit was revived.

Last week, City Council members approved a revised set of findings explaining why the city denied the 13-unit plan nearly two years ago.

The findings state: "In revising its plans, Crown Point should make the design of the units proposed in Phase Five more harmonious in size, height, design and siting with those units constructed in the prior phases of Crown Ranch."

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