SALT LAKE CITY — A pending lawsuit won't stop Salt Lake City from selling $15.3 million in voter-approved bonds for construction of a regional sports complex, city attorneys said.
The Jordan River Restoration Network filed a lawsuit last month against Salt Lake City and the City Council, alleging that the project approved by voters in 2003 is "significantly and materially different" from the project for which the city now intends to use the bond.
The nonprofit environmental advocacy group also alleges that the city failed to properly provide notice of public meetings and actions related to the bond.
Salt Lake City attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the complaint relies on provisions in Utah code that were not in effect at the time of the 2003 bond election and that challenges to the bond election came well after the legal contest period had ended.
"It's a lawsuit that we believe is without merit and should be dismissed by the court," said Ed Rutan, city attorney.
Oral arguments for the city's motion to dismiss the lawsuit are scheduled for Jan. 31. The City Council doesn't plan to wait that long to authorize the sale of the bonds — an action it could take as soon as Tuesday.
During a public hearing last week, Jeff Salt of the Jordan River Restoration Network called the city's plans for move forward with the bond despite the legal challenge "smelly."
"If you pass that resolution, you will be creating a legal liability for yourself," he said.
Salt specifically was referring to language in a proposed resolution that states "no action contesting the legality of the bonds has been filed."
"We have an active case against this in court, and yet you're planning to more forward," he said. "We don't understand how you can do this legally."
Rutan said the legal challenge does not preclude the city from moving forward with the bond, because the prospective purchaser of the bonds, JP Morgan Chase Bank, is aware of the lawsuit.
"As long as we've disclosed the lawsuit to Chase, which we have, it becomes a contractual matter, and Chase and the city can negotiate how to deal with the pending litigation," he said.
Still, Salt warned the City Council, that if the group's lawsuit is successful, "you may not be able to use that bond for your project."
City leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony in early November for the $22.8 million first phase of the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex near 1900 West and 2200 North.
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 bleachers and lights.
A voter information pamphlet from 2003 bills the project as a sports, recreation and education complex "to accommodate the growing needs of youths and adults participating in organized sports such as soccer, rugby, lacrosse, football and baseball." The pamphlet features a picture of kids playing baseball.
Baseball fields have been removed from the first phase of the project, though two are included in the as-yet-unfunded $21.5 million second phase. Some of the fields in Phase 1, however, will be designed to accommodate rugby and lacrosse.
Environmental groups also have objected to the selected site's proximity to the Jordan River. The City Council has committed to fully fund a riparian restoration plan along the Jordan River near the sports complex. That work could end up costing as much as $1 million.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company