San Miguel Avenue resident Drew Roots says he and his neighbor will ask the state’s property rights ombudsman to intervene in a disagreement regarding ownership of two tiny parcels at the end of their quiet cul-de-sac.
“We have new information, and we’re going to enter into mediation,” Roots said June 24.
A county-hired surveyor determined in 2011 that Roots and the neighboring Shuey family own the two “waste” parcels, leading both property owners to put up a fence that blocks access to the non-motorized San Miguel Trail.
County and city officials disagree with the surveyor’s legal conclusions. They maintain that the waste parcels inside the Grand-Vu Park Subdivision were set aside as public easements and say the fence will be removed in the near future to restore trail access.
“It’s just a matter of time before this thing is open,” Moab Community Development Director David Olsen said June 16. “It might be in July, August or September.”
An Eagle Scout built the San Miguel Trail at the end of the cul-de-sac, as well as an adjoining bridge across Pack Creek, in 2009. Over the next two years, cyclists and others used the new route to reach a paved path that runs between the creek and Mill Creek Drive.
That usage came to a halt once the fence and “no trespassing” signs were installed. Olsen says some people began to trespass onto nearby private property to get around the new obstacle.
Ever since then, Olsen says that county officials have reached out to Roots and Ginger Shuey to mitigate some of the potential burdens they face.
“They have been working with them as nicely as possible to avoid a legal battle,” he said. “That’s still their approach.”
Roots says he recently had the chance to discuss the issue for the first time with Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald. But neither he nor Shuey have ever seen anything in writing that supports the county’s legal conclusions, and Roots says they’ve held off on taking any action until they see something on paper.
“It seemed like they were going to force our hand and get us to take down the fence, but we were waiting for documentation,” he said.
As far back as September 2011, outgoing Moab City Engineer Rebecca Andrus submitted a report that outlines the city’s point-by-point response to the surveyor’s findings. But Roots says that he’s never seen a copy of that report, and as far as he knows, the surveyor’s findings are accurate.
“It would have been nice to have a copy of that,” Roots said. “I don’t know why they couldn’t give us anything like that in writing.”
Roots can only speculate why neither he nor Shuey received that information.
“We wondered if they were just withholding the information, or if they didn’t have all of the information,” he said.
Andrus says that county officials looked into the issue and ultimately came to the same conclusions as the city did. But they held off on presenting their findings out of sensitivity to Shuey’s family, according to Andrus.
At the time the dispute flared up, Shuey’s husband was in failing health, and county officials didn’t want to press the issue, she said. Nor did they want to take a heavy-handed approach after her husband passed away in 2012, Andrus said.
“The county should really be commended for having that compassion,” she said. “They really did act with compassion and patience.”
But almost three years have since gone by, and Andrus believes the county must act to remove the fence and reopen the trail — a key link in the city’s plans to improve non-motorized connections between Moab and Spanish Valley.
“At some point in time, the county has just got to say, ‘It’s got to come down,’” Andrus said.
Although Shuey’s husband treated the 47.7-square-foot piece of contested property as his own for 40 years, Andrus and Olsen say ownership of that land was not in dispute before the surveyor submitted his report.
“There wasn’t a question at the time that this wasn’t county property,” Andrus said.
In this case, Fitzgerald maintains that the waste areas were set aside with the idea that San Miguel Avenue could be extended at some point in the future.
“It’s just that all these years passed and nobody even built a road,” he said.
According to Fitzgerald, similar public easements can be found on nearly every parallel street in the area.
“When they built these neighborhoods, they created these waste sections that are really easements, which are the same size as the roads,” he said.
On San Miguel Avenue, that section is about 60 feet wide, and it serves as the only access to a triangle-shaped property that the county acquired years ago at a tax sale. As long as that access is restricted, the county’s property remains “landlocked,” and that status is something that Utah’s courts have consistently frowned down upon, according to Fitzgerald.
“All arguments aside, that county property has to have access to it,” he said.
Olsen says the city and county will likely install ropes or fencing that would funnel trail users between two mature trees, while still allowing Roots and Shuey to use part of the “waste” parcels as their own.
“I think we will just put [the trail] in between the trees,” Olsen said. “We will probably move it right down to the middle of the cul-de-sac, and it should go right through.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Olsen hopes to develop another trail through nearby Wasatch Avenue. He’d also like to work with a private property owner on Duchesne Avenue to build a third proposed route that improves non-motorized connections between Moab and Spanish Valley.
“I’ve said all along, ‘let’s get more openings,’” Olsen said.
From Roots’ point of view, any one of those alternatives would be preferable to the San Miguel route.
“This neighborhood had a very secluded feel to it, and I know that housing and progress has to happen, but with the Cinema Court Apartments and people walking over the bridge and [the county and city] wanting to add another trail, it’s just a lot to take,” Roots said.
“We’re just trying to keep what little privacy we have left,” he added. “That’s why anybody gets a cul-de-sac property. That’s their hope: less traffic, the usual.”