At a public hearing Wednesday to discuss vacating the left fork road of West Canyon, Utah County officials and property owners reached an agreement they say should make everyone happy.
Property owners requested that the road be vacated so they would not have to tear down a gate erected in 1974 that blocks the road. Because the road is currently on the county map as an official road, the county notified property owners in October that they either had to remove the gate or petition the county to vacate the road.Saying the gate is necessary to protect their property from vandalism and to protect the watershed, property owners chose the latter.
Before making a decision commissioners wanted to hear from anyone with interests in the canyon, located west of Lehi near Cedar Valley. With the exception of two property owners and officials from the Division of State Lands and Forestry, everyone at Wednesday's meeting supported vacating the road. And those in opposition said they would not oppose the vacation if their easement rights were protected.
Seeing that the majority favored vacating the road, but at the same time wanting to protect the rights of others, the commissioners offered the parties a proposal that everyone at the meeting seemed to favor. Property owners who favor the vacation will make agreements with the other property owners and state officials protecting their easements and mineral rights. If agreements can be reached before the commission's March 27 meeting, the commissioners will grant the vacation.
"Our interest is to satisfy everyone involved," Commissioner Malcolm Beck said. "And I think we can do that and vacate that road. I think this will resolve a lot of litigation in the future."
The litigation Beck referred to is the possibility of future lawsuits over property rights that may be lost with the vacation. Development rights, mineral rights and some easements are not guaranteed if the road is vacated. Losing these rights is what concerns those who oppose the vacation.
"Are people going to have to go to court with their friends and neighbors to enforce their right to develop?" Commissioner Gary Herbert asked.
To help avoid future litigation and to keep the county out of the position of mediator, the commissioners said it would be best to work out differences before granting the vacation.
"I think once we have this agreement we can go ahead and vacate the road," Herbert said.
The County Planning Commission recommended the county vacate the road, but with three stipulations: easement rights be protected for local, state, county and federal government; the gates remain open during hunting season; and keys to the gate be provided to anyone with interest in the canyon.
Property owners have promised to keep the gate open during the deer hunt and to provide keys to anyone with a legitimate interest in the canyon.
However, deputy county attorney Jeril Wilson told the commissioners that the law does not provide for "seasonal provisions" and that vacating the road would be an irreversible decision.
"It appears that the law allows the county to either vacate the road or not vacate the road," Wilson said.