Jordan River soccer complex controversy before high court
SALT LAKE CITY — Residents opposed to the construction of a soccer complex near the Jordan River asked the Utah Supreme Court Tuesday to invalidate the bond that allowed the project to proceed on the grounds that they weren't given proper notice about the bond validation process.
"This case is about safeguarding the process of securing bonds," Karthik Nadesan, attorney for the Jordan River Restoration Network, told the state's five Supreme Court justices.
Nadesan added that the primary issue was adequate notice, as he contends Salt Lake City residents were not given proper notice that they had been sued by the city. The unorthodox lawsuit was filed in an effort to halt legal challenges related to a $15.3 million bond approved by voters in 2003 to build the soccer complex.
In January 2011, city attorneys filed a petition asking a judge to validate the bond, but Nadesan said the city's residents, taxpayers and property owners were not given adequate notice of the suit or the Feb. 9, 2011, hearing before 3rd District Court Judge Robert Hilder, who ruled the bond was valid.
"What it means is the people of Salt Lake City did not have the opportunity to show up and invalidate the bond — none of them knew there was a hearing," Nadesan said after Tuesday's hearing.
He told the judges that notice should have been printed in either the Deseret News or The Salt Lake Tribune or been distributed in the mail via residents' water bills. Instead, Hilder ordered it be published on the Intermountain Commercial Record, which does not disclose its circulation numbers, Nadesan said.
Lucy Knorr, one of four people who represented themselves in appealing Judge Hilder's ruling, told the Utah Supreme Court she felt the citizens' constitutional due process rights were violated.
"We are unaffiliated citizens. We are not lawyers, but we care very deeply about the city and the merits of this case," she said.
She said she and as many as 18 other people who showed up at the February hearing were "blindsided" when asked to mount a defense.
"There were rules that were not followed," she said. "It’s just been very messy. We don't believe the lower court judge ruled appropriately."
Knorr was adamant that "the city must comply (with) the rules."
But Salt Lake City Attorney Evelyn Furse said the city believes it did comply with the statutes and regulations "and the information in the record supports that."
Furse asked the state's high court to uphold Hilder's ruling. She pointed out that there were "full-blown" articles published a week apart in the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune noting a time and place for the hearing.
"Notice in water bills wouldn't have reached all of the citizens," Furse said.
"But it's a whole lot better than a limited-circulation newspaper," Justice Thomas Lee responded.
But Furse questioned the seriousness of the notice issue in the long-term, noting that "there is no one challenging this bond now."
Salt Lake City Attorney Edwin Rutan said after the hearing that his office immediately notified attorneys at the Jordan River Restoration Network about the lawsuit and the hearing, which he said led to the 18 or so people being present at the hearing before Hilder.
"Eighteen people is a lot for a proceeding like this and the reason (they were there) is, they were given notice," Rutan said. "(They) raised this issue after something had gone out in the Intermountain Commercial Record and on the Internet. There is no question whatsoever that notice was given."
The Utah Bond Validation Act has been used only once since it was passed by the state Legislature in 1987. The act allows a public body to file a petition to establish the validity of bonds.
The city filed its petition in response to legal challenges by the Jordan River Restoration Network, which had prevented the Salt Lake City Council from authorizing the sale of bonds to construct the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex near 1900 West and 2200 North.
The environmental group has four active lawsuits against the city and another against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all related to the location of the complex near the Jordan River.
The group objects to the decision to build the soccer complex near the Jordan River and in a flood plain. It also has taken issue with the difference between the project approved by voters in 2003 and what the city now intends to build.
In the lawsuit against Salt Lake City residents and taxpayers, city attorneys contend the way the city plans to use the bond is consistent with language on the ballot.
Nadesan said in February that he believes the city's use of the Utah Bond Validation Act put his clients at a disadvantage because it allowed for an expedited hearing. That prevented his legal team from conducting discovery and depositions, as well as requesting and receiving documents from the city, he said.
Judge Hilder determined that enough notice was given, and the hearing was allowed to proceed.
City leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony in November 2010 for the $22.8 million first phase of the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex.
City officials plan to use the $15.3 million bond and a $7.5 million gift from Real Salt Lake to fund construction of 15 competition-quality soccer fields and one championship field with permanent bleachers and lights.
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