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Differences over definitions can make business plans crumble

In a time when the idea that alternate facts can exist at the same time, it might be a good time to review the value of words and the importance of everyone being on the same page when it comes to their definitions. This is particularly important where the law is concerned. Without agreement on our understanding of words, black can mean white, or dry can mean wet.

In Arizona and the rest of the U.S., we operate under the rule of law, and those with experience in the practice of the art know that clarity and accuracy is crucial. Otherwise, we could wind up talking about statues rather than statutes, and libel could become lible (which isn't even in the dictionary). Success in dealing with legal causes of action requires precision.

Failure in this regard can have serious consequences, as a business developer and the leaders of a Denver suburb recently discovered. On the table was a proposal from the company Topgolf for a huge driving range and entertainment complex in the community. Projections estimated the creation of hundreds of jobs and the city OKd nearly $4 million in government incentives to get things rolling.

However, a judge shut the project down a few weeks back in response to one nearby neighbor's lawsuit. She claimed, and the judge agreed, that the city had violated its own zoning ordinances in giving the go-ahead. Specifically at issue was the definition of the word, private.

City zoning requires that the land be used only for private use, but the lawsuit argued that the proposed Topgolf center would be an open-to-the-public operation that would bring bright lights and noisy nights and create a hazard to birds living in the area.

The business tried to argue that it was a "private" club because patrons have to buy a membership card to use the driving range. But the judge said the cards are little more than a tool for keeping score and earning rewards. In ruling the project a public, not private, operation, the judge said the city had abused its discretion in approving it.

Real estate and development are areas of law that can generate loud public reaction. As this case shows, a lack of transparency can result in plans derailing.

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