The Canyon Inn: In Your Face | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly
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The Canyon Inn: In Your Face

In the shadow of a proposed $59 million development, a Cottonwood Heights bar owner stands his ground against DUI-driven cops.



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Critics of Cottonwood Heights Police DUI enforcement include attorney Tyler Ayres. “Their DUIs are weak, to the say the least,” he says. “A lot are under the legal limit [of .08] with no driving pattern,” but rather stemming from minor infractions such as no license plate light or mud flaps. “Any superficial reason they can come up with,” he says.

The Sandy-based attorney says in contrast to the six or so DUI clients he would get a year when Salt Lake County’s Sheriff’s office patrolled Cottonwood Heights, now he averages two clients a month. Pull out of a pub in Cottonwood at 4 p.m. with no mud flaps, he says, and you won’t have a problem. Around last call, “it’s a guarantee,” he says, you’ll be pulled over. “Their DUIs have an agenda,” he continues. But whether it’s caused by a conspiracy over development or as a means to add revenue from fines to the city’s coffers, he says, “I don’t think it’s appropriate they are writing more and more DUIs at a time when we have the lowest number of vehicle fatalities from drunken-driving” in many years.

Kim Stojack says Cottonwood’s DUI enforcement around her bar has affected her health and her marriage. She’s afraid to come to work and is tired of “crying myself to sleep, enduring headaches, depression and the control [the police] have over us.” Her husband, who had focused on being a stay-at-home dad to raise his children, had to start working at the bar during the day, cooking pizzas to try and build up their lunchtime business. Jim Stojack spends all his time “trying to investigate [the development] himself.” Where once he was outgoing, “now he’s quiet, serious, he snaps, gets mad easier.”

Cullimore says he likes Stojack. “But he makes the wildest speculations.” Stojack feels the city isn’t listening to him, Cullimore says. The mayor’s invited Stojack to provide evidence of any of his allegations, but says the bar owner has yet to do so.

Cullimore points out that the Utah Highway Patrol patrols Wasatch Boulevard. “We did research, we demonstrated to Jim that there is not a focus on him.” Cottonwood Heights does not “make efforts to target those citizens” who go to bars, “but we do take DUIs very seriously.” A map of DUI arrests by Cottonwood Heights Police officers between September 2008 and December 2010 obtained by a records request shows that arrests are spread all along Fort Union Boulevard, major arteries feeding into it and Wasatch Boulevard.

Along with videotaping officers, taking photographs and patrolling the street from 11 p.m. onward, video camera in hand, Jim Stojack has sought out media publicity and, for the first time in 20 years, advertised, bringing in a new, younger crowd to replace his older regulars. But every time officers pull someone over outside his bar or in his parking lot, his night’s receipts inevitably take a hit.

Such is his anger, Stojack commissioned graffiti artist Kier Defstar to paint a mural on a wall in his parking lot. It’s a vivid representation of everything Stojack loves and hates about Utah. Along with terrified Catholic altar boys, a LDS temple surrounded by flames and a buxom blonde mountain climbing, the left side of the mural features a police car with the taunting license plate, CRPT-1S, alleging corruption, because, Stojack says, he believes, while Cottonwood Heights Police has many good officers, “a handful of cops are working for the developer.”

If it were Cottonwood Heights’ intention to get rid of the Canyon Inn, Cullimore says, “why would we include him in the [Community Development Area]? Now his property is protected, as he is immune to any eminent domain.”

But even the council-approved Community Development Area [CDA] bond, which developer McCandless and Cullimore say would improve chronic parking problems in the area and is essential for the development they would both like to see go forward, has quickly accrued controversy. The CDA will siphon off $15 million of the Canyon Centre’s future property tax money into infrastructure improvements by the city. Around $7 million may go to loan-interest payments, the remaining $8 million being spent on a half-buried 438-stall garage, which the public would have partial access to, and a park. Without the CDA, the proposed $59 million development will not take place, McCandless says. Instead it will morph into an $18 million “community of mixed-use development. It’s that simple.”

Two Cottonwood Heights residents, Mark Machlis and William McCarvill, members of a 2-year-old local-government watchdog group called CH Voters, call this “bad public policy.” They feel the developers are trying to hoodwink the city into giving them a free parking lot.

They argue the developers deliberately made the $18 million alternative look so unappealing that the community will have no choice but to support the original proposal and the CDA. “Taxpayers are subsidizing a healthy development and a healthy developer with a private garage,” McCarvill says. Those who will have to decide if they want to take a hit over the next 25 years by not receiving the taxes the development would generate include the Canyons School District and the local library and recreation center.

Porcupine Grill and Canyon Inn say they have both opted out of the CDA, although Cullimore says until Stojack informs him of that, “he is in it. I would think Jim would welcome the CDA because it can help bring thousands of people to his back door,” Cullimore says. He’s referring to CDA money, assuming there is some left after the parking structure, being used to develop access between the CDA-covered businesses on Fort Union and the development. “There’s not been anything we presented that’s threatened them,” Cullimore continues. “There isn’t a business along there we hope doesn’t stay and benefit from this.”

While Cullimore imagines that one day light rail will come up Fort Union to the mouth of the canyon and the gravel pit on Wasatch Boulevard will evolve into a striking multi-use development, Stojack’s dream is, as the mayor correctly surmises, to sell his business, but for a good price. “I want to sell the bar, get rid of it, but I’m trapped,” Stojack says. But as he patrols Fort Union late at night, he wonders, “When will this ever end?” He is so convinced the forces of law are out to get him that he has a hair follicle test done every three months, in case the police try to frame him with drugs.

Cullimore says he told the police department if they were singling out someone to stop, but Chief Robbie Russo assured him that was not the case. The mayor argues Stojack’s complaints have made his police department more cautious as to how they have handled the bar. “There was a certain sensitivity about whatever they do being mischaracterized by the guy.” That’s changed. “We’re going to start doing bar checks again,” the mayor says.

A week after the mural was completed, Kim Stojack says chief Russo paid his first visit to the bar. After he viewed the mural, he and two other officers came in. Stojack says Russo told her that he was doing a bar check and was there “to make his presence known.” She says he told her, “You can expect to see us up here more often.”

In the seven days after Russo’s appearance, his officers made good on their boss’s promise. Two days later, Stojack says Cottonwood Heights Police Sgt. Scott Peck parked his police car in his lot for two hours, doing reports. When Stojack asked him to leave, Peck refused. Two employees were pulled over in separate incidents and when Stojack left a restaurant with his children, a passing police car turned around and followed them home.

The Stojacks’ 13-year-old daughter, Abbie, recalls witnessing officers tailgate her and her father home on repeated occasions. At 6 a.m. the Sunday morning after Russo’s bar check, Abbie was awakened by noises in the family’s front garden. She peeked out the window and saw uniformed police looking into her father’s truck with flashlights. “I was scared,” she says. When Stojack asked what they wanted, he says they inexplicably asked if his neighbors were home. “They were probably just harassing us,” Abbie says.

While Cullimore might dismiss such claims as more examples of Stojack’s paranoia, the 10 seconds witnessed by a City Weekly reporter that it took an unknown officer to all but run Stojack off the road that early April night might suggest otherwise. Whether Stojack’s take-no-prisoners attitude helped feed the fight he now finds himself in or whether there are sinister forces at work, it is clear at least one officer in Cottonwood Heights has a disregard for Stojack’s life.

In this ongoing fight, Abbie Stojack’s innocence is also a victim. She doesn’t trust the police, she says, and “would never go to one for help.” Stojack tells her that, as in all walks of life, there are good and bad cops.

“No,” she says. “I think they are all bad.”