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Church to retain Draper land

City had wanted to use the site for a fire station

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DRAPER — Land owned by the Evangelical Free Church that city administrators had wanted to condemn for a fire station will remain under the church's ownership.

The condemnation of approximately one acre of property was denied by the City Council in a 4-1 decision Tuesday night. The denial came after Council members learned that the negotiations between the city and church leaders were not as friendly as they originally believed.

"The council moved along this path [to condemnation] based on the understanding that the property owner was a willing participant," Councilman Bill Colbert said. "I have not seen any evidence of that."

City Manager Jim Smith has said that studies identified the EFC property as the best available for a fire station, which the South Mountain residential area desperately needs. Currently, the closest station is near 900 East on 12300 South.

During initial discussions early this year, Smith told the Council that he understood the condemnation proceedings to be "friendly," and that the only issues were the price of the land and finding other access to the EFC property. However, during the past few weeks representatives for EFC have threatened legal action if the city chose to condemn the land and have alleged that the city's decision was religiously biased.

Plans have already been drawn for the EFC site at a cost of $62,000, and having to find another site for the station will delay the project until next year, Smith warned the Council. Already, he indicated that fire insurance for South Mountain home owners has started to rise because of the distance from a fire station.

No specific plans have been developed for the land, although the EFC would eventually like to build a new church or school in Draper, said Senior Pastor Mike Hunt said. The EFC currently operates the Intermountain Christian School.

"We're looking at this as a significant asset we can use in the future," he said. "There is a chance we could build in the near future, but right now we're in a holding pattern."

During a brief public comment period prior to the decision, speakers once again raised the issue of religious bias among city leaders. Had this property been owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, several speakers said, the condemnation would never have been considered.

Mayor Frank Alsop strongly disputed those charges, and said that such discrimination would never be tolerated in Draper.

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com