City settles land dispute
Mayor: 'Good compromise' with tree buffer Toninelli: City 'terrible neighbor,' says density 'unheard of' but legals costs are too great
by Rose Egelhoff
The Times-Independent
Aug 09, 2018 | 2719 views | 0 0 comments | 92 92 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Mike Toninelli is not happy with his settlement with Moab City.

The Spanish Valley resident has been fighting a multi-family housing project next to his rural residence for years. He appealed the city’s decision to allow it, alleging that certain land use approvals by the city pertaining to the apartment development application were “unlawful, arbitrary and capricious.” The city denied his claims, and the parties settled out of court last Thursday, Aug. 3.

Through the settlement, Red Rock Partners and Hogan Elite Residential, the developers of the Mill Creek apartments, made some landscaping concessions. They agreed to plant bigger trees and more trees to act as a buffer between Toninelli’s house and the three-story apartments they plan to build.

“Mike [Bynum] and the Red Rock Partners came to an agreement,” said Mayor Emily Niehaus. “That agreement led to the decision to plant trees as a buffer. I like when people come together to make decisions to benefit each other. It’s what we hope for in any relationship—finding the place where there’s good compromise, and I think that’s where we found ourselves with this situation.”

City Attorney Christopher McAnany said this was a case of the city acting as mediator between the objections of a neighboring property owner and the developer. “We hope to do more of that to try to address concerns of people who might be affected by development in the future. We’re happy with the result. I think it is good for the neighborhood and will also help to mitigate the effects of this housing development.”

At 29-plus units per acre, Toninelli said, “the density is unheard of.”

“People buy in rural areas for a rural lifestyle. I didn’t buy next to commercial property … the city snuck commercial property in,” Toninelli said. He said the city placed a legal notice in The Times-Independent when they planned to annex and rezone the parcel next door to his house, but that residents were inadequately notified—the legal notice said the council would be voting on a resolution, but it did not say where or what the resolution regarded. Toninelli said he never received a letter about the proposed zone change. “It may be legal but it isn’t ethical,” Toninelli said.

Toninelli, a longtime Moab business owner, also laments the irregularities that he said marked the process by which the conditional use permit was procured, including conflicts in the land use. He said that the city could have put more conditions, within reason, on the developers to make sure the project was compatible with neighboring residences. “The city has been a terrible neighbor to me. How do you do this to a neighbor? The city had the responsibility and the authority to make it work and they didn’t,” Toninelli said.

Toninelli said that he believes his case is valid, but that he was not sure he could afford the legal fees. “Who has got deeper pockets, the developer, the city or me? I could go to court. I want my day in court … [but] the next step was hiring a lawyer and that could have been thousands [of dollars],” Toninelli said. “They messed with where I wanted to spend the rest of my life … I think I had legs to stand on with this, but sooner or later you cut your losses and try to move on with your life … this never should have happened.”

“My next door neighbor has already sold,” Toninelli said. “We were told by realtors that our value will go down even though that [commercial] property’s value went up with the zone change. [My neighbor] wanted to sell before the project started … there’s more neighbors who say they’ll leave and I’m one of them. It’s sad. Good people are leaving.”

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