Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Court sends Crown Ranch back to city

Plan for Elkhorn site continues to go in circles

Express Staff Writer

The Crown Ranch subdivision in Sun Valley will, for now, remain as is following an Idaho Supreme Court decision on Friday. The Supreme Court has placed the matter back in the hands of the City Council, after which legal proceedings could begin anew. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Idaho Supreme Court on Friday overruled a 5th Judicial District Court decision that would have paved the way for the fifth and final phase of development in the Crown Ranch subdivision in Sun Valley.

The action does not close the door on Crown Point Development Inc.'s potential development project, however. The high court remanded the issue back to Sun Valley for it to reassess evidence in its earlier decision.

"The city is pleased with the result and pleased the Supreme Court argued that the way the record was augmented, in the manner in which it was done, was improper," said Rand Peebles city attorney for Sun Valley.

Crown Ranch is located on the southern side of the Morning Star Road loop in Elkhorn. Phase 5 of the Crown Ranch plan—which has been under review and in the courts for several years—proposes to build residences on a vacant piece of land in the upper reaches of the neighborhood.

The high court stated that the city's findings of fact, the official determination of the council supported by the evidence in the record, were incomplete.

"The 'findings of fact' do not determine any facts; they are only recitations of evidence which could be used to support a finding ... Thus we remand this matter back to the city so that it can make proper factual findings," the decision states.

In short, no new evidence will need to be provided by the city, but it will have to add a justification for its decision to deny the preliminary plat application and the design review application for Phase 5 of the Crown Ranch subdivision based on evidence already on record.

The city will hold a hearing to formally adopt the new findings of fact, at which point, and here's the rub, Crown Point Development could start the process anew. The case has the potential to be heard by the 5th Judicial District Court in Hailey again and subsequently by the Idaho Supreme Court on appeal.

The Supreme Court decision to overrule the district court decision hinged on the improper order by the district court for the city to augment, or change, the record by including documents related to the city's prior approval of Phases 1 through 4 of the Crown Ranch subdivision.

Peebles clarified that in this particular case, "the district court was to act solely in an appellate role," and the district court acted outside of its discretion when it became the finder and analyzer of new information.

The district court was suppose to review the record that was before City Council when it rendered its decision and documents relating to Phases 1 through 4 were not considered by the council during that time.

The Supreme Court decision reads, "the city only considered information relating to Phase 1-4 to the degree such information was presented to the city in Phase 5 proceedings."

Now that the Supreme Court has made its ruling, the city will be receiving a remittitur, or formal transmittal of a case back to the city, said Peebles. The city will then begin to more clearly state their findings of fact on their decision to deny Crown Point Development the necessary applications for Phase 5 of Crown Ranch, although the case could find its way back into the courtroom.

Attorneys from Boise-based law firm Greener Banducci Shoemaker, the representatives for Crown Point Development, were unavailable for comment.

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