A court case between Grand County and two private citizens over a small piece of property — one that both sides claimed ownership of — will likely not go to trial now that the parties have agreed to settle the case.
The trial, in the Seventh District Courtroom of Judge Lyle Anderson, was to have begun Wednesday; instead, the attorneys for both sides said a potential settlement had been reached.
“This morning, the [defendants] for a variety of reasons have determined that they would like to work with the county, that they no longer want to fight that issue in a court proceeding,” said James Ahlstrom, representing Grand County in the case, which has been ongoing since 2015.
At issue in the case has been a rather small piece of land — about 60 feet — in the Grand-Vu Park residential subdivision that the county maintained it had owned since changes to property lines in the subdivision were made in 1974. The two defendants in the case, Andrew Roots and Virginia Shuey, said, at least until Wednesday, that they owned the land.
Under the settlement reached this week — or, at least, the agreement to reach a settlement — Shuey and Roots would give up their claims in return for certain “mitigation efforts,” attorneys said.
First, they would negotiate whether or not the county needs the entire 60 acres for development of a non-motorized trail it had intended on the land.
Also, the county would agree to look at how to “buffer the trail with fencing and shrubbery and other things,” Ahlstrom said.
The case began in 2015 but traces its history all they way back to 1974. That’s when property-line changes were made in the Grand-Vu Park subdivision plat. The changes created pieces of land at the top of the San Miguel Avenue cul-de-sac that were labeled on the amended map as “waste parcels.”
Previous to the 1974 changes, those parcels had been included in property belonging to Shuey and her late husband, and to Larry Randall and his wife, who owned the lot now belonging to Roots.
Those “waste parcels” are in an area between the subdivision and the Cinema Court apartments to the north, through which Pack Creek runs and a system of walking trails was being developed.
The county and the City of Moab had both been undertaking to develop a trail that would empty onto San Miguel Avenue as a connection from Cinema Court to other trails or into town.
The county “planned and developed a trail through the parcel to provide safe access for pedestrians and cyclists to downtown Moab,” attorneys for Grand County stated in a court memorandum. “The County funded and assisted in development and improvement of the trail, which was publicly used on a regular basis for years.”
A May 2015 article in The Times-Independent quoted former Moab City Engineer Rebecca Andrus as saying that several entities had invested more than $300,000 to develop the trail.
But Roots and Shuey blocked access to the property and staked their claims to it.
The county sued in 2015.
Attorneys for Grand County argued that a notation on the 1974 plat “contains an owners’ dedication wherein the owners of property within the subdivision dedicated the streets and ‘other public areas’ for the perpetual use of the public.”
In other words, the then-owners of the Shuey and Roots properties signed over those “waste parcels” to the county. Attorneys for the county said the phrase “other public areas” referred directly and specifically to the “waste parcels” that appear on the 1974 map.
They used state law in effect in 1974 to argue that “waste parcels” implied public use. The law at the time said privately owned lots were to be numbered, while property dedicated for public use was to be described (i.e., not numbered). “Waste” is a description, not a number; ergo, the county’s attorneys argued, those parcels were dedicated for public use, and that dedication was signed by the Shueys and the Randalls, the property owners at the time.
But attorney Philip Patterson, representing Roots and Shuey, said his clients did not interpret “waste parcels” the same way, and never intended to sign away portions of their property.
“Neither Mrs. Shuey, the Randalls, nor Mr. Roots recognize or understand the meaning of the term ‘waste,’” Patterson wrote in an opposing memorandum. Further, they maintained the county was itself less than clear on the issue and continued to assess property taxes based on pre-1974 property descriptions.
Patterson submitted to the court tax records that he insists show that even after the 1974 changes, the county continued to assess taxes on those waste parcels.
Tax records are not available prior to 1989, Patterson stated. But at least from 1991 until 1999, they Shueys’ tax assessment included the waste parcel. It was finally removed from the Shuey tax bill in 2000.
For Roots, Patterson stated, “The County has assessed Mr. Roots’ subdivision lot … for the waste parcel acreage adjacent to this property for each year from 1990 to the present.”
As recently as a few weeks ago, Patterson wrote in court documents, “Each of them opposes the placement of a non-motorized trail onto San Miguel Avenue because of the unwanted burden and description created by the public accessing their residential street which has never been a dedicated public right-of-way for the movement of the general public across the north boundary of the subdivision. The privacy and solitude provided by the location of their lots on San Miguel Avenue will be lost.”
On Wednesday, however, Patterson said Roots and Shuey were okay with a non-motorized trail as long as it could be developed in such a way as to mitigate possible intrusive impacts.
The precise details of the settlement are yet to be worked out. A trial date is still set in case things fall through, but, attorney Ahlstrom told Judge Anderson on Wednesday, “There’s a 95 percent chance or greater that you’ll never hear this case again.”
Alhstrom also said there had never been ill will between the parties throughout the suit, and that it was a “good faith” disagreement. “If there ever was such a thing as a friendly lawsuit, this was that.”