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McElhaney v. City of Moab

Supreme Court of Utah

September 21, 2017

Jeramey McElhaney and Mary McElhaney, Appellees,
City of Moab and Moab City Council, Appellants.

         On Direct Appeal Seventh District, Moab The Honorable Lyle R. Anderson No. 140700048

          Craig C. Halls, Blanding, for appellees

          Christopher G. McAnany, Grand Junction, CO, for appellants

          Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Durham and Justice Himonas joined.




         ¶1 The Moab City Council (Council) denied Mary and Jeramey McElhaney's application for a conditional use permit to operate a bed and breakfast in their residential neighborhood. The McElhaneys appealed to the district court, which reversed the Council's decision. Moab City (Moab) and the Council seek our review. We first clarify that, contrary to what we have suggested in some cases, we review the district court's decision and not the Council's. We next conclude that the district court correctly recognized that the Council had not generated findings sufficient to support its decision but erred by refusing to send the matter back to the Council for the entry of more detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Accordingly, we vacate the district court's decision and remand with instructions to the district court to remand the matter back to the Council.


         ¶2 Mary and Jeramey McElhaney (collectively McElhaneys) submitted an application for approval of a conditional use permit for a bed and breakfast facility to be located on their property. The McElhaneys' property is located in an R-2 residential zone. An R-2 zone allows residential dwellings and limited commercial uses. Moab, Utah, Mun. Code § 17.45.020 (2017). The Moab Municipal Code recognizes that a bed and breakfast facility may be allowed, in some circumstances, as a conditional use in an R-2 zone. Id. § 17.09.530(B). The proposed bed and breakfast would be the only commercial property in a cul-de-sac of single-family residences.[1] At the time of their application, the McElhaneys operated a child-care business on the street, which they planned to close once they opened the bed and breakfast.

         ¶3 In September 2014, the Planning Commission (Commission) convened a public hearing to review the application. Several neighbors voiced their concerns at the hearing. Comments primarily addressed issues of traffic, noise, parking, lighting, storm water drainage, and general incompatibility with the neighborhood. The Commission directed city staff to investigate the concerns and report back. The McElhaneys wrote a letter to the Council to address the concerns raised at the public hearing. They indicated that the bed and breakfast would include off-street parking, decrease traffic once they closed the daycare, be constructed in a way that avoided drainage issues, and ultimately increase property values.

         ¶4 The city staff investigated the complaints and the McElhaneys' proposed solutions. For example, the staff examined the concerns about increased traffic. The staff estimated that a bed and breakfast would generate up to 8.9 average daily trips per unit- fewer than a single-family residence's 10 to 12 average daily trips. It also found that the McElhaneys' plan included sufficient off-street parking to meet the Moab Municipal Code's requirement.

         ¶5 The Commission recommended approval of the conditional use permit, subject to the following conditions:

1. The bed and breakfast shall be reviewed each year for code compliance;
2. All lighting shall be downward directed and full cutoff as required by [Moab Municipal Code] 17.09.660(H), Lighting Plan.
3. Fencing and/or landscaping shall be used to buffer the parking area and the entrance from the street. . . .
4. The daycare center will discontinue operations once the bed and breakfast facility is operational.

         The Commission found that the McElhaneys could mitigate the negative impact of the bed and breakfast if it abided by these conditions.

         ¶6 The Council, acting as the land use authority, considered the conditional permit application at a public hearing. Citizens again voiced a number of concerns. Increased noise and traffic were the most frequently aired problems. Many expressed unease that the bed and breakfast would attract tourists with loud Jeeps, utility task vehicles (UTVs), and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Nearly everyone who spoke at the Council meeting worried that visitors to the bed and breakfast would drive motorcycles or ATVs up and down the hill past their houses multiple times. Many also feared that the increase in traffic would endanger neighborhood children who frequently play in the streets. Several residents also commented that the presence of a commercial property would alter the integrity and dynamic of the neighborhood. A few people complained of potential light pollution, decreased property values, and possible road deterioration.

         ¶7 The Council denied the McElhaneys' application by a 3-1 vote at a Council meeting in November 2014. The Council did not make explicit findings on whether the proposal met the requirements the Moab Municipal Code imposes. However, each councilmember explained the rationale behind his or her vote.

         ¶8 Councilmember Kirstin Peterson voted against the permit. She suggested that the proposed use did not meet the criteria that it be "consistent with the city of Moab general plan." See id. ยง 17.09.530(H)(7). She noted that, under Moab's general plan, "one of the five goals is to restrict commercial development in residential . . . zones, " and she believed that approval of the conditional use permit would effectively "force a commercial business on a residential area that clearly is not interested in creating a commercial zone." Considering "the unique ...

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