Walker Street resident Cheryl Decker spoke out against a proposed conditional use permit for a bed and breakfast on Arches Drive during an October 2014 Moab City Council hearing. B&B applicants Jeramey and Meredith McElhaney are appealing the city council's November 2014 vote to reject their request. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Whether they stand for or against a proposed bed-and-breakfast business on Arches Drive, residents in the neighborhood are eagerly awaiting a district judge’s ruling on the issue.

Seventh District Judge Lyle R. Anderson is currently reviewing an appeal of the Moab City Council’s November 2014 decision to reject Jeramey and Meredith McElhaney’s request for a conditional use permit to operate a five-unit B&B at 100 Arches Drive.

At the time, a majority of council members went against the Moab City Planning Commission’s 3-0 recommendation to approve the application, subject to four main conditions.

Outgoing council member Kirstin Peterson found that the city’s general plan is aimed partly at restricting commercial development in the city’s residential zones.

“In this zone, I feel like what we’re being asked to do is to force a commercial business on a residential area that clearly is not interested in creating a commercial zone,” she said during the council’s meeting on Nov. 25, 2014.

In the weeks leading up to their vote, council members heard from numerous residents who voiced concerns that the B&B would change the dynamics of their quiet neighborhood. The McElhaneys allege that the 3-1 majority of council members who voted against their application did so based solely on “public clamor” against the proposal.

A nearby resident who asked to remain anonymous found that argument to be absurd.

“That’s the whole point of going through a conditional use permit application: to see if there are going to be any impacts on the neighboring properties, and if there are, it cannot be granted,” the person said.

However, plantiffs’ attorney Craig C. Halls maintains that the council’s action is contrary to state law, and says that council members failed to provide a written decision detailing the reasons behind their vote – which, he says, prejudices the McElhaneys.

In court paperwork, Halls argues that the McElhaneys showed that they could meet the city’s requirements, or eliminate potentially negative impacts. Operations at their B&B would be subject to annual compliance reviews, among other things, and the couple also agreed to discontinue operations at the child day-care center they run, once the B&B was up and running, he noted.

In written comments to the council, the McElhaneys said in 2014 that traffic would be reduced to about one-third of its current maximum, because they planned to halt operations at the day-care center. Jeramey McElhaney said at the time that the couple’s own home would also shield the B&B section of the property, offering privacy and quiet to guests and neighbors alike.

Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany noted that the McElhaneys aren’t challenging the legality of the city’s conditional use permit ordinance for B&Bs, which is “admittedly strict,” he wrote. The city’s standards say that B&Bs must be compatible with existing uses, and applicants must prove that their projects will have “clearly minimal” negative impacts on adjacent neighbors.

McAnany acknowledged that courts have struck down other denials of conditional use permits when local government entities “caved in” to public pressure and made decisions that weren’t supported by facts, or were irrational in light of surrounding land uses. Still, he wrote, it’s “entirely appropriate” for a land use authority to solicit and rely on the testimony of adjacent landowners, as long as that testimony is not the sole criterion behind their final action.

Arches Drive property owner Paul Murphy, whose house was converted to a monthly rental, said he was not aware that the McElhaneys had appealed the council’s decision.

Murphy called Jeramey McElhaney a “nice guy,” but he said he shares many of the concerns that other residents and property owners raised during previous public testimony, and in writing to the city council.

“I think that everybody loves that spot because it’s up on the hill,” Murphy said. “It’s quiet. You move to a circle so you can get away from the noise.”

In the long run, he said, decision makers have to consider the potential impacts that visitor traffic could have on the neighborhood.

“The key for everybody is, is this going to be a place for residents, or essentially a place for people spending the night?” he said. “It’s two different things.”

Jeramey McElhaney said in 2014 that he and his wife would build the same 5,737-square-foot home and attached buildings on a 0.57-acre parcel at the end of Arches Drive, regardless of whether or not the council approved their request. Work on the project began soon after the council’s vote, and today, a large, two-story structure now stands at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Longtime Moab resident and Realtor Joe Kingsley said that while opponents of the McElhaneys’ plans view the project as a detriment, bed-and-breakfast establishments tend to be the cornerstones in their neighborhoods.

“And this property obviously is,” Kingsley said. “If you drive up there, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

Kingsley said he respects the opinions of one nearby resident who opposes the project, but he believes it would be a boon to surrounding homeowners.

“If it were in my neighborhood, I would be out talking to my neighbors, saying, ‘Hey, we ought to be supporting this because it will enhance our property values,’” Kingsley said.

Murphy said he doesn’t see it that way, though.

“It doesn’t seem to fit with the design in the rest of the neighborhood,” Murphy said. “It’s quite large and blocks the views of quite a few people.”

Even before the new house and surrounding structures went up, Murphy found that the couple’s plans affected his own interests.

One day, he said, his former tenant approached him “pleading” to buy his house. The next day, however, the longtime renter found out about the McElhaneys’ plans for a B&B, and he immediately backed away from his offer, Murphy said.

Like others in the neighborhood, the tenant cited concerns about increased noise, traffic and parking that the B&B could generate.

Moab City Council member Kyle Bailey was the chairman of the planning commission at the time it came up with language that allowed opportunities for bed and breakfast establishments in the city’s R-2 zoning district, including the Arches Drive area. However, he said in November 2014 that the board clearly intended to listen to the people of the neighborhoods, and to represent their interests.

“That’s why we had (language regarding) ‘clearly minimal negative impact’ on adjacent residential areas,” Bailey said at the time. “I think we’ve seen that this is going to be an impact on the neighborhoods, and I can’t support this.”

Outgoing Moab City Council member Gregg Stucki, who operates a bed and breakfast in another part of town, parted ways with Bailey and the rest of the majority. At the time, Stucki countered that neighborhood concerns about detrimental impacts from tourist traffic and noise had been blown out of proportion.

In Stucki’s eyes, many opponents made incorrect assumptions that the McElhaneys would be catering to motorcyclists, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders and utility-terrain vehicle (UTV) owners, based on Jeramey McElhaney’s onetime stint as president of the Red Rock Four-Wheelers.

Bed and breakfasts don’t attract the “typical rough and tumble crowd” that some people envisioned, Stucki said. Quite the contrary, he said: B&B patrons are respectful, conscientious, well-educated and environmentally aware.

Stucki said they remind him of some residents who live on Arches Drive.

“They’re not going to trespass on your property, walk through your flowerbeds (or) throw beer cans over the fence, and when they walk down the street, you won’t have to run out and gather up your children,” he said in November 2014. “In fact, if you’re lucky enough to strike up a conversation with one of these strangers, you will quickly find you have a lot in common, and they will become a new friend.”

However, one nearby resident who asked to remain anonymous is still concerned that the McElhaneys’ plans would draw off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders to the cul-de-sac, bringing noise and other impacts along with them.

“We know this would be OHV city,” the person said.

Applicants, opponents waiting for judge’s ruling