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Appeal to halt historic Murray 1st Ward demolition denied

Oct 04, 2017 10:10AM ● Published by Shaun Delliskave

Historic Murray 1st Ward, built in 1907, to be torn down to make way for an assisted living center development. (Photo courtesy of Murray Museum)

Gallery: Demolition Denied [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

An appeal to halt the demolition of the historic Murray 1st Ward and three other historic structures has been denied by a Murray Community and Economic Development Hearing Officer.  

A packed July 26 meeting was held in the Murray Municipal Council Chambers to hear an appeal by Kathleen Stanford, who is part of the grass roots effort, Preserve Murray. In their appeal, Preserve Murray asked to deny a certificate of appropriateness in order to consider preserving the 100-year-old iconic structures on Vine Street. In his decision, Hearing Officer Jim Harland upheld the decision of the Planning Commission to allow development of the property into an assisted living center.

Located in the Murray Downtown Residential Historic District, the LDS Murray 1st Ward meetinghouse was built in 1907 at 184 E. Vine St. The structure was enlarged in 1928, and the LDS Church sold it in the 1970s. Since then, the buildings have housed the Mount Vernon Academy, a non-denominational school for pre-kindergarten to 12th graders. The academy also used three other structures, including the structure that bordered Jones Court. The school has since relocated and the property was purchased by development company Dakota Pacific.

In January, the Murray History Advisory Board issued a memo stating, “These initial projects will set the precedence of whether the City is fully committed to the goal [in the 2017 Murray General Plan] of preserving its historic fabric.”  The Board’s memo further stated that demolition must be “balanced with potential for rehab and reuse with available state and federal funding sources.”  

During the planning process, the idea of relocating the structures elsewhere in Murray was approached. However, in a report to the Murray City Planning Commission, Jared Hall, supervisor of Community and Economic Development, noted that, “the Murray 1st Ward building presented unique challenges in moving because of the nature of the structure and additions over the years…. Lots of walls in the duplex building are unreinforced adobe and can’t be jacked up and moved to other parts of the city.”  Further, due to the developer’s business plan of turning the property to an assisted living facility, the Planning Commission agreed that current buildings could not feasibly be incorporated into the project.

A vocal outcry was registered by Murray citizens, who formed Preserve Murray. The group attended a June 20 City Council meeting when the motion to approve development of the property was considered. The motion passed unanimously.  Councilman Jim Brass, in whose district the property resides, stated, “This is in my district and it is difficult. It is also a private property issue. This property was for sale for quite a long time and a development group is under contract to purchase it. It’s hard for government, and I don’t think people would want the government deeply involved, in property issues.”

Attorneys for Preserve Murray argued in the appeal that the proper process was not followed by the city, saying it failed to include important documents in the record upon which the appeal was made, including owner affidavits and the developer’s agreement. The attorney for the developer argued that there was plenty of evidence in the record that the buildings were not practical for both the layout and for cost reasons.  In the end, the hearing officer agreed with developer.

Following the hearing, Janice Strobell of Preserve Murray issued the following statement.  “We wish to work with the developer, Dakota Pacific, and owner/operator of the new development, Stellar Senior Living.  The historic landmark(s) can be integrated into this new development and there is funding available to offset the costs for this adaptive reuse.  Murray takes pride in its character and charm, and turning the 1907 iconic church and other buildings into rubble is not reflective of Murray. The citizens of Murray, the county and the state want their history to be a living, vibrant part of their community and this integration can be a shining example of future developments leading the way.” 

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