Lionsback lands in court, pact contested
by Rose Egelhoff
The Times-Independent
Apr 12, 2018 | 2355 views | 0 0 comments | 123 123 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The site of the old Lionsback Campground is set to be the location of the Lionsback Resort. The City of Moab is being sued for its decision to categorize a change in the resort plan as a “minor change” rather than a “major change,” effectively avoiding further public hearings.     
                Photo by Rose Egelhoff
The site of the old Lionsback Campground is set to be the location of the Lionsback Resort. The City of Moab is being sued for its decision to categorize a change in the resort plan as a “minor change” rather than a “major change,” effectively avoiding further public hearings. Photo by Rose Egelhoff

Eight landowners and the nonprofit Living Rivers are suing the City of Moab over a decision relating to the proposed Lionsback Resort.

The city entered into a zoning status agreement with the developer LB Moab Land Company, LLC and the Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, on Feb. 28, 2017. The zoning status agreement was a compromise between the city and the developer, which classified a change to the development plans as a “minor change” subject to administrative approval rather than a “major change,” which under city code would be subject to further public hearings and would have to be approved by the Moab City Council.

Revised plans for the first phase of the proposed resort, which is located on SITLA land at the old Lionsback Campground, now include a hotel consisting of 50 three-bedroom units and a parking area to be located behind the hotel. The original plan featured a lodge with 50 single rooms.

The plaintiffs in the case contend that the city’s decision to enter into the zoning status agreement was illegal.

“[The zoning status agreement] illegally … classifies changes and amendments to the [development] as a ‘minor change’ when the changes are actually ‘major changes’ as defined by Moab City ordinance, thereby denying the public and specifically the plaintiffs the right to participate in public hearings on the changes, a right they are entitled to for any ‘major change’ which the proposed changes certainly are given the nature and character of the changes,” said the legal complaint … The city made the determination that the amendments and revisions to the MPD were ‘minor changes’ in order to appease SITLA and LB Moab, but not based on an actual review of whether the amendments were in fact ‘minor changes’ or based on substantial evidence.”

In the city’s legal response to the suit, they said that the zoning status agreement was valid.

“There existed a genuine dispute between the City of Moab and LB Moab/SITLA as to the scope of existing land use entitlements and the rights and duties of the parties under those entitlements. The zoning status agreement constitutes a valid and binding accord and satisfaction whereby the parties agreed to settle certain disputes without resorting to litigation,” Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany wrote in defense of the city. “The council’s decision was made in good faith, after receiving the recommendation of the planning commission, and input from the public at a public hearing. The decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record, and was not arbitrary, capricious, or illegal under the subject ordinances, being instead based upon a careful evaluation of the neighborhood and the probable impacts of the proposed development.”

McAnany said last year that this new plan constituted a major change under city code, but SITLA and the developer said that ambiguities in the code and communications from previous city officials led them to believe that they could proceed with the new plan as a minor change, without undergoing a public review, as would be required in the case of a major change.

Under state law, SITLA has the right to withdraw from city land use approval processes, something the city did not want. SITLA had said it would consider withdrawing if the zoning status agreement was not approved.

The plaintiffs say in their legal complaint that they are adversely impacted by the changes in the development plan, and that the city has denied them their right to present evidence of said adverse impacts at public meetings.

The argument for the case was originally scheduled for April 10, but has been rescheduled to May 8 at the request of the plaintiffs.

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