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Order halts land action in Mapleton

MAPLETON — A group of residents successfully obtained a temporary restraining order Monday, preventing the Mapleton City Council from taking action Tuesday on a piece of hotly contested Maple Mountain acreage.

The council was supposed to reconsider a request to rezone property owned by Dr. Wendell A. Gibby from a critical environment zone to a planned development. But those plans unraveled when Jim Lundberg and Friends of Maple Mountain Inc., filed a temporary restraining order in 4th District Court.

Lundberg said the land, located at 2000 Maple St., poses some geological hazards for the city.

"We believe that the proposed (rezone) would allow for the removal of virtually all of the oak trees and natural vegetation on the steep bench," he said. "In such event, risks of mud slides, flooding or avalanche becomes an increased risk to Mapleton residents."

Lundberg said members of Friends of Maple Mountain think a special referendum vote should be held on the matter. The group spent about three weeks gathering signatures in support of a vote. They then filed the temporary restraining order to delay the city from taking action on the Maple Mountain plot.

The Maple Mountain land issue was removed from the City Council agenda Tuesday night, but that didn't prevent discussion on the matter. During public comment, David Nemelka reminded the council that 1,011 people signed the petition asking for a referendum vote.

"Please listen to the people, that hillside is precious to us," he said. "We trusted you when we voted for you."

Mayor Jim Brady said he's disappointed some citizens deemed the restraining order necessary. He said the City Council was not acting out of fear of a lawsuit as has been previously asserted.

The restraining order only lasts for 10 days, but Anthony Schofield, attorney for Friends of Maple Mountain, said a court hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 24. At that time the group will attempt to persuade a judge to extend the order until a referendum vote is held.

This is the latest development in a five-year struggle over the use of Gibby's land on Maple Mountain. Gibby and city officials have battled over several issues, including eminent domain and civil rights, since Gibby plowed over a dirt path the city intended to use as a public access point to the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

Gibby said he's not terribly disturbed by the restraining order but feels frustrated and harassed by his opponents.

"They've got lots of money and I guess they don't have anything better to do with their lives," Gibby said. "But in the end, they have the problem that they don't own the property."

Assertions that the land is geologically unstable are based on "crude analyses" completed in the 1970s, Gibby said. Several geotechnical companies conducted extensive research on the land and found it stable, he said.

Bill Turner, senior geotechnical engineer with Orem-based EarthTech Testing and Engineering, confirmed he spent considerable time on Gibby's land and found it stable.

"It is land that can be built on, in our opinion," he said.

Lundberg disagrees with that conclusion, saying the critical environment status was designated according to city ordinance more than 15 years ago. But Friends of Maple Mountain also feel the effort to rezone the land sets precedent for future lawsuits against the city.

"We believe that any special deal given to a developer, which is the result of litigation filed against the city, creates a greater risk that other future development within the city will lead to similar litigation in the hope of getting similar special deals," Lundberg said.