Friday, April 15, 2005

Hailey seeks dismissal of Peregrine suit

Express Staff Writer

Citizens of Hailey who feel aggrieved by an alleged violation of Idaho's open meeting law can express their frustration in the next election—but they have no right to take the matter to court now, the city stated in court papers Monday.

The city made its claim as part of a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it in Fifth District Court in Hailey by 15 city and county residents. The suit asks the court to nullify an agreement made between the city and developer Harry Rinker to extend sewer services for a proposed 380-unit development to be called Peregrine Ranch, located north of the city limits. The agreement was made in February following discussion during an executive session closed to the public.

The state's open meetings law allows executive sessions to consider pending litigation or the acquisition of real property—both of which were involved in the Rinker deal—but forbids them for the purpose of taking any final action.

The City Council voted to enter into the agreement during an open meeting on Feb. 7 following an executive session during which the proposed agreement was discussed. However, notice of the special meeting, which convened at 7:30 a.m., referred only to pending litigation and land acquisition, and did not mention Peregrine Ranch.

The city is seeking to have the suit dismissed before those and any other substantive issues are addressed in court.

In a brief attached to the city's motion to dismiss, Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson stated that the plaintiffs who live in Hailey lack standing to bring the suit since they cannot claim any injury beyond that potentially suffered by all city taxpayers. According to previous court decisions, Williamson contended, generalized grievances must be addressed at the polls.

The brief also disputes the standing of the plaintiffs who live adjacent to Rinker's property outside the city limits. Williamson contended that the proper forum for those citizens to raise complaints will be during hearings on a potential rezone application for the property conducted by Blaine County planning authorities.

The brief also claims that the case is not "ripe" for review—that is, that all injuries claimed by the plaintiffs, including potential increases in taxation and in housing density north of the current city limits, are at this point only speculative. The proposed development has not been approved and the sewer hookups may not be required, the brief points out.

"In short, the court should not intervene until the facts become definite and concrete," the brief states.

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