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Land dispute brewing in Salt Lake

Family says city offer too low for Capitol Hill site

The Evans family has held onto roughly 2.66 acres of property in the Capitol Hill community for more than 65 years, waiting for the right time to sell — and now, they say, they're being punished for it.

Rick Evans, one of six siblings who make up the Evans Development Group, said the family has been in discussions with developers for the past two years about selling the property before Salt Lake City officials stepped in two months ago and said the city needed the land.

But the city's offer came in about 70 percent less than the $2.08 million appraisers told the property owners the land is worth, Evans said, so the offer was turned down.

On Tuesday night, the property owners were at City Hall to witness the Salt Lake City Council's decision to begin eminent-domain proceedings on the property. Evans said the matter will likely go to court, where he expects a judge will award him and his siblings "a helluva lot more than the city offered."

The city needs the property to complete an agreement it made in March with Rocky Mountain Power to allow the Grant Tower rail realignment to move forward and quiet train noise on the west side.

The project involves straightening the two 90-degree turns on the Grant Tower rail line in the area west of The Gateway, making it possible for Union Pacific to quit using the line along 900 South. The line crosses several streets with no crossing gates, forcing the trains to blow their whistles near neighborhoods.

To straighten the turns, the city needed to acquire a 2.21-acre lot owned by Rocky Mountain Power, which planned to use the site for a future substation. The power company agreed to trade the land for another suitable piece of property in the same area, if that property could be identified before the end of this year.

That's where the Evans family comes in. Their property at 465 W. 400 North "made the most sense from an overall planning perspective," said City Councilman Carlton Christensen.

The property was the site of the Bartile Roofs Inc. manufacturing facility owned by Evans' parents, who moved the company to Centerville in the late 1970s. The property currently is raw, undeveloped land in an area zoned light industrial.

Evans said the family had been holding onto the land in anticipation of a zoning change. The Capitol Hill community master plan adopted in 2001 calls for the area between 400 West and 500 West from North Temple to 600 North to become a medium- to high-density, mixed-use development corridor.

Sudden interest in the property by several developers and rising prices of neighboring parcels had the Evans family anticipating a huge payday in the next six months to a year, Evans said. Then city officials came knocking at the door with a $577,000 offer, he said.

"It feels like, to us, the city is interfering in our negotiations with (developers)," Evans said. "All of sudden, they're jumping in and saying they want to condemn our property for the purported reason of giving Rocky Mountain Power a power substation to install there at some future date."

David Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, said the need for a substation in that area is "probably between five to eight years out."

The substation will be necessary to keep up with ongoing development and the growing power needs of the city, Eskelsen said. The property the city has begun condemnation efforts to obtain is good location for that substation, he said.

Russ Cline, an attorney for the Evans Development Group, expressed concern during the City Council meeting Tuesday that the property will end up not being used for the benefit of the public, that the substation will not end up on his clients' property and that the land would end up in the hands of developers.

Cline cited the Capitol Hill community master plan, which specifically calls for a utility substation to be located in the industrial area of the community.

"The contemplated eminent domain proceedings (are) not consistent with the zoning set forth in the master plan," he said.

Eskelsen said Rocky Mountain Power fully intends to locate the substation on the property it receives from the city.

Councilman Eric Jergensen was the lone member of the City Council to vote against beginning condemnation action, saying he believes an agreement can be reached.

"My hope is they're going to come to a negotiated solution," Jergensen said.

Evans' outlook isn't as positive. The resolution passed by the City Council was amended prior to Tuesday's meeting to include a statement that the city does not intend to rezone the property within the next six to 12 months — a change Evans says indicates the city is preparing for a court battle.

"That's the key litigation point," he said. "They have an obligation to negotiate in good faith with us prior to bringing a lawsuit, and they haven't done that. Unless they get real about fair-market value of the property and stop denying that this property will be rezoned, why would we settle?"