Eminent domain for downtown development discussed by Murray Council
Tim Tingey, director of Administrative and Development Services, speaks about eminent domain discussions going on with Murray City out the Feb. 7 council meeting. (Mandy Ditto/City Journals)
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The Murray City Council passed a resolution to wait 30 days to consider passing a resolution authorizing and approving proceedings in eminent domain regarding property for further downtown development.
“As we talk about this issue with eminent domain, this is a very difficult issue, it’s a very challenging issue especially for property owners, it’s not something we take lightly at all,” said Tim Tingey, director of Administrative and Development Services. “The definition of eminent domain is the taking of private property for public purposes. Just compensation is an important element of that, all defined under Utah state code and even federal code.”
The city is embarking on a significant public project in the downtown area, west of State Street from Vine Street north to 4800 South and areas that move from State Street to the TRAX line, with 10 parcels being discussed for eminent domain with six different property owners, Tingey said. Public improvement by the city on this land will include building a new city hall, building roads associated with city hall and other projects, parking structures for public use and open space, he said.
Several property owners who would be effected by eminent domain attended the council meeting on February 7. Members of the MurrayFraternal Order of Eagles 1760, located at 10th West and 4th Avenue in Murray came to discuss the purchase of their property and help from the city in finding a new location.
The Fraternal Order of the Eagles (FOE) is an international organization that raises money for numerous charities and helped pass the Fair Labor Act, along with other legislation, said Christina Edwards, an FOE member.
“Although we aren’t a religious organization, we promote and stand by the Ten Commandments,” Edwards said. The FOE was founded in Murray 115 years ago, and have been at their current location since 1960.
The FOE sits on over a half-acre of land, and has approximately 75 maintained parking stalls. The facility has multiple entrances, two social areas, two independent dance floors, a full-size commercial kitchen, and enclosed outdoor patio and four full restrooms, said Marlies Burns, another FOE member.
“It will be hard for us to replace our facility,” Burns said. “Our intent is to keep our club, our heart and our home in the Murray City limits. It’s where we started, and where we would like to keep our business.”
FOE members have looked for another place to move in Murray but haven’t found anything comparable. The FOE wishes to have the city’s assistance in finding a new facility and, in order to relocate a small business, the city must provide relocation benefits, according to state law said Justin Matkin, a Fraternal Order of the Eagles’ lawyer.
The FOE’s legal council also believes there are some changes that need to be made to the negotiation process.
“In the Utah Eminent Domain Code, there is a requirement that before the city takes a final vote that it use good faith negotiations with the property owners,” said Matkin. “I will describe the negotiation that have taken place so far: we’ve received a letter saying, ‘This is the amount we’re offering you, either accept it or else.’ That’s, in my view, not a negotiation, that’s an ultimatum.”
The entire property, including the building, was originally appraised as $565,000, but the appraiser then decided the building held no value for the city's purposes. So, the city proposed in their offer letter to pay $565,000 minus $65,000, for the demolition costs, meaning that would be covered by the FOE.
“Our suggestion would be: tap the brakes, make sure you’ve followed all the rules, make sure you’ve negotiated in good faith, and then you can have your vote in a month when we’ve had time to work everything out,” Matkin said. “We want to be cooperative, we want to deal with the situation fairly.”
Two other properties were briefly discussed at the meeting, including the Strasser Organization — which had two representatives speak about being unclear on receiving an offer letter — and Danny Johnson’s ContractAppliance Sales business.
Colin Strasser and Fidel Crespin of the Strasser Organization wanted to express concern that the city has been moving too quickly, and without fair negotiation. Strasser said that Tingey had not reached out to his organization with an offer, though Tingey later confirmed in the meeting that he had been in contact with the organization and had personally spoken to Strasser about the property negotiations.
Danny Johnson’s business has increased 300 percent in his current location at 35 East and 5th Avenue, and though he doesn’t want to relocate, he knows it is necessary for the city’s growth. Blaine Walker, who represented Johnson at the meeting as his lawyer, said, however, that the offer wasn’t significant enough for them and didn’t give enough time to accept and they are working with Tingey currently on negotiations.
“We are working with Mr. Tingey on reviewing those offers and negotiating on moving costs, all those things that fall under eminent domain law in Utah,” Walker said. “Mr. Johnson doesn’t want to be an impediment in the process, but his concerns are timing, and of course replacing his business so he doesn’t lose business, and being able to replace what he has now.”
The city decided unanimously to wait 30 days — until March 7 — before looking at passing the eminent domain resolution, specifically after comments from Councilman Jim Brass to give the negotiations more time.
A resolution was also passed in regards to the intent to adjust a boundary common to Murray and Midvale cities, that would lead to about 27.5 acres located at approximately Winchester Street and 700 West of Murray being annexed to Midvale City. Garbett Homes plans to build 128 single-family homes on the property, but because of the slope of the land current sewer services that would be provided by Murray would not be sufficient.
“Because of the grade of the property, Garbett Homes would like to have the sewer and the storm water drain into the Midvale sewer system and storm drain system, thus avoiding having to have a list station installed to pump the water uphill,” said Doug Hill, Murray City Public Services director.
A resolution of intent to study whether or not a boundary adjustment should be undertaken was what the council approved Tuesday night, not an actual approval of the boundary adjustment. The planning and zoning commission will take a look at the adjustment and provide recommendations to the council. The resolution also set the public hearing date for April 18, where a final decision will be brought before the council, Hill said.