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Maple Mountain development halted while lawyers confer

MAPLETON — The rumble of bulldozers cutting an access road on Maple Mountain has been silenced pending court hearings that will determine whether city residents can weigh in at the ballot box on the fate of a controversial development plan.

The excavation, which started last Friday, came to a halt Thursday when Mapleton officials issued a stop-work order affecting the land owned by Dr. Wendell A. Gibby. Lawyers will be in 4th District Court next week to argue the merits of the voter referendum intended to block the city from rezoning the land for residential development.

Earlier this month, Mapleton staff issued two excavation permits to Gibby to build an access road and relocate power poles on his property near 2000 Maple St. despite the existence of a temporary restraining order that had been obtained by a local citizens group called Friends of Maple Mountain Inc.

"The (order)should have prevented them (the city) from issuing the grading permits," said group member Dave Nemelka.

City Manager Robert Bradshaw said the temporary restraining order only demanded no action be taken to rezone Gibby's land from critical-environment to a specially created, residential-like zone.

"Had they ... included a stay of action on excavation work, this would never have happened in the first place," Bradshaw said.

Over the weekend, excavation crews slowly plowed a road up the mountain through Gibby's property, while residents and attorneys argued over the legality of the work.

A stop-work notification was issued last week, but Gibby, who was in Washington over the weekend, said his attorney told him the temporary restraining order only applied to city government action to rezone the land. So the work proceeded. Nemelka, who lives next to the property, disagreed on that point. He said he watched the road rise up the mountainside and it made him sad.

"Sierra bonita, beautiful mountain, that's what the Spanish called it," he said. "It's tragic watching him desecrate that mountain."

So on Tuesday, Nemelka ventured up the mountain.

Nemelka said he drove his four-wheeler up on Gibby's property to inform the excavation crew of the stop-work notification. He said he had an amicable conversation with the work team, gave them each a pack of gum and left peacefully.

On Thursday evening he was served with a trespassing and harassment complaint that, he says, surprised him.

"How can he (Gibby) say I harassed him?" Nemelka asked. "I haven't talked to Wendell Gibby in a long time."

Gibby tells a different story. He said he was told Nemelka was "throwing a tantrum and ranting," and the police chief had to come and ask him to leave the property.

"It was a calculated effort (by Nemelka)," Gibby said. "Dave was just trying to provoke something."

Gibby also said he called his lawyer, Dayle Jeff, and asked him not to file anything, but Jeff had already taken the initiative.

"Dayle's so good," Gibby laughed.

A court hearing set for Wednesday will determine whether the temporary restraining order should be extended, and another hearing on Nov. 2 will determine whether to extend the stay on excavating Gibby's property while lawyers determine the fate of the land. Gibby said he thinks the end is in sight.

"At the end of the day, justice will prevail," he said. "I don't think we're far from being allowed to use our property."