A lawsuit filed against the city of Ketchum, a current employee, a former employee and a former elected official remains in the court system following a partial summary judgment handed down by 5th District Judge Jonathan Brody on March 13.
The lawsuit centers around a proposed gas station on the north side of Ketchum on Main Street across from the Knob Hill Inn.
The would-be-developer, Roy Bracken, filed the suit on June 5, 2019, alleging that the city, along with the other defendants, former Mayor Nina Jonas, former Planning Director Micah Austin and City Administrator Suzanne Frick, acted illegally and punitively during the application process for a conditional-use permit for the project in 2016 and 2017. The suit alleges that the three staff members disregarded the law to reach a preordained result.
Following a motion for summary judgement filed by the defendants in December on five of the eight counts stipulated in Bracken’s lawsuit, Brody ruled that two of the counts, negligence and gross negligence, would be dismissed, and the plaintiff agreed to dismiss another count alleging illegal spot zoning.
Brody did not grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgement for dismissal of a count alleging liability by the city for its employees’ actions.
The case is now moving forward on four counts: one for reckless conduct, one for liability by the city of actions by its employees, one against the city employees and one against the city for violations of Bracken’s civil rights.
Bracken originally applied to the city to build a gas station and convenience store on April 29, 2016. Before accepting the filing, city staff requested a traffic study and count.
“While the results from the traffic study came back largely positive, the application was denied based on the possibility of a traffic flow problem under unique circumstances,” Brody wrote in a 22-page decision.
Just prior to the denial, the city commissioned an online public survey, paid for by the city and commissioned by then then-Mayor Jonas, for opinions about whether a gas station should be permitted at the proposed site. At that time, gas stations were still a permitted use under the city’s zoning laws.
The survey was unprecedented, according to Steve Cook, a Ketchum architect who served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for nearly nine years, the memorandum states.
On April 10, 2017, Bracken presented a second application and site plan to then Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Micah Austin. That application was also denied, and Bracken appealed the decision to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which reversed Austin’s decision.
Bracken again filed a redesigned application to Austin on June 19, 2017, and again Austin rejected it on the grounds that the P&Z determination was not final until a written decision reflecting the oral decision was made.
Between the oral decision and the written decision by the commission, the City Council passed an ordinance on July 3, 2017 prohibiting gas stations on Main Street.
“The passage of the ordinance was unusually expedited,” Brody found.
Following the ordinance passage, Bracken discussed filing his application again, at which point Austin told him that a city ordinance had just been published, to the effect that there could be no gas stations on Main Street.
The next hearing date for the case is scheduled for May 18.