What could possibly be more time-consuming and potentially more challenging than the Grand County Council’s involvement in a sweeping public lands initiative?
How about ongoing efforts to resolve a six-year dispute over a short and narrow stretch of neighborhood trail that connects the Grand Vu Park subdivision with the city of Moab, via a dead-end street?
County and city officials have been struggling with the controversy surrounding the San Miguel Trail ever since it opened in 2009, and the county council is finally hoping to put the matter to rest. By a unanimous vote on Tuesday, May 19, the council asked Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald to file legal paperwork with the hope that a court will determine who owns two disputed “waste parcels” at the end of the San Miguel cul-de-sac.
Until that decision is known, the council is postponing any further action on the issue.
The trail behind the present-day site of the Cinema Court apartment complex has been closed since 2011, after a county-hired surveyor issued a disputed report which found that the Shuey family and Drew Roots own the parcels at the mouth of the trail. Based on the surveyor’s findings, the property owners fenced off the trail and installed “No Trespassing” signs.
Grand County Council vice chair Chris Baird dealt with the issue during a previous stint on the council, and now that he’s back on it, he said he wants the question of legal ownership to be settled once and for all.
Roots told the Moab Sun News that it’s unclear to him where the council is heading with its latest actions.
“Does asking the judge (for a legal opinion) mean they’re suing the Shueys?” he asked. “I’m not sure of the answer to that.”
Roots disputes trail advocates’ contentions that the San Miguel Trail is the safest connector route between the subdivision and the city limits.
“The thing about kids’ safety and stuff just hasn’t held true at all,” he told the council.
When the trail was open, Roots said, he watched numerous children wipe out on their bikes along a hilly section near his home.
“These are not fearful projections on what’s going to happen; it actually already has happened,” he said.
Over the years, he said, he has also witnessed the accumulation of litter and dog excrement along the trail area in and around Pack Creek, as well as incidents of vandalism to his car.
Roots said he moved to the very end of the cul-de-sac for a reason, and he wants a return to the peace and quiet he experienced before the trail was in place.
“It’s true that I don’t want it in my backyard,” he said.
In any event, he said, the disputed location is not a good place for a trail. It’s too long, he said, and it’s situated within the Pack Creek flood plain.
As an alternative, Roots suggested that trail advocates could build a curbed pathway on Mill Creek Drive that would discourage drivers from veering too close to bicyclists or pedestrians.
“That would be a cheap, permanent solution, as opposed to a trail that’s going to get flooded and is bumpy,” he said.
Roots said he doesn’t want to make the case that the trail could be moved to another street.
“But there are better streets than our street,” he said, naming Wasatch and La Sal as two examples.
He said that he and others have already considered many different alternatives, and they ultimately reached the conclusion that the San Miguel route impacts the fewest number of people in the neighborhood.
Safety-wise, Baird said he views potential run-ins with cars along busy Holyoak Lane and Mill Creek Drive as a much more serious threat than wipeouts along a dirt pathway.
Financial considerations are also on Baird’s mind.
If the county gives up on the trail, he said, it would be throwing away at least $80,000 in public funding – as well as an Eagle Scout’s time and effort on the project – without addressing safety issues at busy intersections in the neighborhood.
Baird maintains that the property owners’ decision to fence off the trail only made the trespassing situation worse.
He noted that his own family’s home is situated on a street corner in the Grand Vu Park subdivision, and to cope with increasing traffic in the area, he put up a fence. He suggested that the county should install similar fencing and landscaping to mitigate the trail’s impacts on San Miguel residents.
“It’s not like I can’t live my life because I have people going past (my house),” he said.
Several high-profile figures, including Grand County Trail Mix chair Sandy Freethey and former Grand County Council member Audrey Graham, spoke out in support of the trail. Grand County Planning Commission members Mike Duncan and Gerrish Willis, who addressed the council on their own behalf as city residents, also threw their weight behind the San Miguel route.
“I don’t see it as a serious imposition of the Shueys’ rights in this case,” Duncan said.
“I think that it just makes sense to use what we’ve got,” Willis said.
Conversely, Shuey’s daughter Monica Skowbo said she believes the issue boils down to one of respect for private property.
“It’s not that we’re trying to keep anybody from having anything in there,” Skowbo said. “But private property should be respected, and I think that ought to be established with the ownership of that property before anything else is decided.”
Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson voiced his support for the two property owners.
“I think by and large we’ve got a great master trail plan for the community,” Jackson said. “But I think this is one particular area, in my opinion, that sort of gets to the point that it’s infringing too much on longstanding residents’ privacy and where they live there.”
Jackson went on to question how aggressive government entities want to be in forcing something on private citizens, and added that there are still serious legal questions regarding the ownership of the waste parcels.
That position is a turnabout from Jackson’s public stance last year, when he told former Moab City Engineer Rebecca Andrus that he hoped the trail could be reopened before she left town that summer.
“I’d like to see everything up and running before school starts again after summer because I think there are kids in that neighborhood that would use that trail to ride their bikes to school,” Jackson said at the time, according to a Moab Sun News report.
In response to Jackson’s latest comments, Baird countered that government efforts to permanently close the trail may come across as heavy-handed to many other people. He also took the surveyor’s findings to task, maintaining that the surveyor reached his conclusions solely on the basis of one property owner’s opinions.
“And that was it,” Baird said.
Fitzgerald was not present for the county council’s discussion. But he previously told the Moab Sun News that he does not agree with the surveyor’s legal conclusions, either.
He maintains that the developers of the Grand Vu Park subdivision created public easements to potentially extend roads or other infrastructure in the future, noting that the waste parcels are the same width as San Miguel Street.
Regardless of the surveyor’s conclusions, Fitzgerald said that the county must have access to a nearby property it acquired at a tax sale, which is only accessible via the disputed section of the trail.
“The State of Utah will not allow that property to waste by being cut off,” he told the Moab Sun News on April 15. “(County officials) can put a road in there if they want, and likely, a court would agree with them.”
Roots said that the question of who owns the disputed parcels is by no means clear.
“It’s not as cut and dried as people say,” he said.
Officials hope to resolve San Miguel dispute once and for all