Property Rights 101 for the Residents of Springville and Mapleton Utah

Two different events that occurred in Utah County in the past few days have made me concerned. Both deal with a failure to respect property rights. One incident illustrates a lack of government integrity in following through with a commitment. The other relates to a tendency toward mobocracy--a lack of respect for private property by others. Is it just a coincidence that two such episodes occured in such close time proximity to each other in nearly the same place? I hope so.

Note: I'm assuming that the facts I've been able to find in local newspapers are accurate and are representing both sides of the issue. If you know any details that haven't been reported, please let me know.

I have friends in Springville and Mapleton, and some of them might have been involved in either or both of the recent property rights incidents there, so I hope I don't offend them. That's not my point. Rather, my point is to clarify the principles by which I think we should all abide.

Government Should Not Go Back on Its Word

Nearly a year ago, apparently, the Springville, Utah City Council approved ceding thirteen acres of land to the neighboring city of Spanish Fork so that developer Cody Roberts could develop one large tract of his land instead of having to work the details out with two different city councils. Recently, after Roberts had spent $220,000 in engineering costs for the combined 80-acre development, a representative of Springville contacted him and told him that he needed to appear at the next city council meeting, because his request had never been finalized. At the next city council meeting, his request of the previous year was denied by a vote of 4-1.

I'm sure there's more to the other side of the story, but as it stands, I can't imagine how a city would lead someone on for nearly a year and then pull the rug out from under them. Sure, Roberts can still develop the other 67 acres in Spanish Fork, but the main point here is that even government is expected to have integrity. The answer to my surprise appears to be that Springville governmental leaders have suddenly become afraid that granting de-annexation would have caused others to approach the council with similar requests, despite the fact that there haven't been any other such requests in at least the last two years.
The mayor and council members felt differently, saying a change in the southern boundary for Roberts might cause others to ask for a border adjustment.

"I don't see any reason why this should happen and, frankly, I get concerned about the domino effect," said Mayor Gene R. Mangum, in Tuesday's meeting. "One piece of property after another and pretty soon the Spanish Fork boundary is going to be right here on our front door. It's 13 acres of Springville's future that you're asking us to give to Spanish Fork."
It shows a lack of integrity to go back on an agreement that has already been made, despite what reasons my now seem pertinent. The above statements by members of Springville city government make Springville's case worse.

If Springville wants to regain its integrity, their city council should apologize to Cody Roberts and finalize the agreement that they made last February.

Not Even a Mob Can Negate Rights to the Use of Property

Mapleton, Utah residents are up in arms because the City attempted to change a zoning designation so that a developer could build homes on his property. They filed a lawsuit
against Mapleton when the city was poised to rezone [Wendell] Gibby's land...from a critical environmental zone to a planned development on which Gibby could build 47 single-family residential units on his 118-acre property.

Lundberg and other Mapleton residents opposed the city's actions and circulated a petition that gathered 864 signatures requesting a referendum on the issue. City officials said the rezone was not referable. In response, Lundberg obtained a temporary restraining order, barring City Council from taking action on the rezone until the case was decided in court.

"In this case, the rights of the citizens have been abused and trampled on by Mapleton," he said.
I disagree. It's not the residents' rights who are about to be trampled. Utah, to include Mapleton, already has a plethora of land in "critical environmental zones"; it's called Federal Land. What several hundred residents of Mapleton wish to do is to trample on the rights of a property owner.

If Dr. Gibby got the land through unlawful means, then he should be forced to give it back to its rightful owner. Considering that that does not seem to be the case, Dr. Gibby should be able to use his land as he sees fit. If I lived in Mapleton, I probably wouldn't want Dr. Gibby to take away my view and scar the mountainside either, but how would that be my choice?

Nearly 900 residents have signed a petition requesting a referendum on the subject. Referenda are allowed in a limited number of situations in Utah. I'm not sure, but it doesn't appear that this should be one of those situations. But that's not the main point. The main point is that several hundred Mapleton residents have it in their mind to dictate what someone else can do with his property.

I remember a fair number of examples in Utah over the years when people built homes in the area of a long-existing cattle farm and then complained to have the farm removed. Now, something new and even scarier is afoot--property rights ruled generally by petition. If such politics is allowed to take off, there is no logical end to the carnage.
. . .

When it comes to private property, there are few things worse than the determination of its use by mobocracy, as currently seems to be happening in Mapleton. On that subject, there's only one thing that I can think of that's worse. We've got too much of that already, as illustrated by recent events in Springville.


  1. The events in Mapleton and Springeville make perfect sense when you apply the common, and incorrect, assumption that government owns/controls everything and that private ownership comes only within the boundaries of government regulation.

    This is the same assumption that allows us to accept income tax and the decline of federalism. We don't question the idea of ceding our national sovereignty to even larger organizations like the UN, NATO, WTO, WHO etc.

  2. If at one point the land was designated at "critical lands" how does the city go about rezoning that? The guy who bought the property I'm sure knew when he purchased the land that he was zoned as such. Why were these lands critical?

  3. That would be interesting to know, but as long as it was the city that did it, why wouldn't they be able to change the designation. It would also be interesting to know if Gibby bought the land before or after the designation was made.

    The genius of America, as David says, is that government doesn't and shouldn't control everything. I have some aversions to zoning myself, but this is more an issue of whether a mob of people can override a person's rights.

  4. While working for Spanish Fork City a few years back I attended many of city council and planning and zoning meetings. Almost every one for about 3 yrs. This type of situation that happened in Mapleton happened (or better said 'tried to happen') all the time. They never did succeed but we got many interviews with upset people that were trying to petition the developments and they were always upset about the same thing you said. Like you said though, it isn't their right to chose. The Planning commision and City Council of Spanish Fork understood that at the time. I hope that this gets resolved the right way. Just my humble opinion.

  5. My experience on the Santaquin City Council was very similar.

    I remember hearing someone say once that we should make so and so clean up that pile of junk in their orchard. And I replied that it's their orchard and they should be able to have a pile of junk there if they want to. There were zero health and safety issues; the only issue was that it was an eyesore, and that's not a good enough excuse.

    Perhaps the piece de resistance was when I was chastised for voting in favor of a development that wanted twin homes, because, you see, that property had a prime view of Utah valley, so you should have zoned it for luxury homes.

    To which I said, what...???!!!

  6. Frank,
    After the "what...???!!!" and initial shock of that statement, you should have then got out a ladder, climbed up it and slapped that person right off their high horse. They would have deserved it. I wonder if it was somebody I know, I will go down there and do it. ;)
    Just my two cents.

  7. The comments on this blog seem to ignore the other people's rights who are affected by the owner/developer having the right to do whatever they want.

    In Suncrest you have parts of the mountain sliding down and damaging homes and roadways. You have Herrimann where Sorenson Development was allowed to do what they wanted and now yards and streets are flooding.

    What about the rights of the citizens of the city who are required to pay the cost to clean up the mess made because the developer just had to squeeze the last dollar from the project?

    For those of you thinking, "There are ways to make the developer pay for these problems." You're right . . . . in theory.

    But when the limited liability company that did the original work is defunct, who pays? Us! And when the man with the money and influence has the state legislature in his pocket, covering his back, who pays? Us!

    In the Mapleton case the citizens even had to pay for at least part of his infrastructure.

    City government and zoning laws are the only thing to even come close to protecting the common man in the city from potential problems and costs.

    I believe in capitalism and the free market system. I don't believe the the citizens ought to be subsidizing, either directly or indirectly, someone's choice on how they want to use their land.

    And I haven't even started into the ongoing normal costs to the city (and it's existing citizens) of providing services. Look at the numbers in Mapleton and you'll find that the operational costs far exceed the increased tax revenues from the additional lots.

    Property Rights 101 is not as simplistic as you make it out. Property rights only extend until you start infringing on others.


  8. Axel,

    Thanks for your input. This is the kind of opposite perspective that I was hoping to get by writing the article. I served on a city council for 5.5 years before being called into the military, so I know how "fly-by-night" developers can be.

    The legislator-in-the-back-pocket problem should be dealt with, but separately.

    It is important to look into the long-term viability of a developer--and their ability to do most things right the first time and to fix their overlooked mistakes.

    Other than that, if the operational costs are higher, Mapleton should probably change its fee structure.


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