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South Salt Lake residents sue city over closing streets to make way for car dealership

Published August 10, 2015 8:26 pm

Under advisement • Judge says ruling is weeks away, but indicates city enjoys "presumption" that its actions were valid.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Marguerite Dietrich has lived in South Salt Lake for 79 years, but a dispute over city closure of two public streets for an auto dealership may be enough, she says, to drive her out.

"I think it's ridiculous," she says. "It seems so crazy."

Dietrich was one of 20 residents attending a court hearing Monday over the dust-up.



At issue is the planned closure of Burton and Truman avenues, just north of Interstate 80 at State Street, to allow Salt Lake Valley Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM to consolidate its property by eliminating the roadways dividing it.

Residents opposed to the road closures over fears of traffic and access problems are suing, claiming the city council acted illegally in the way it approved the plan.

But 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan, while taking the case under advisement for a later ruling, said the "presumption of validity" lies with the city.

"Just because I [may] disagree with it or you disagree with it, doesn't give this court power to overturn it," Maughan said.

Attorney Craig Cook, representing eight South Salt Lake residents named as plaintiffs, argued the City Council's 5-2 vote in December shouldn't stand.

The council voted in favor of a similar proposal by the dealership to expand in 2008, which was contingent on the company buying four additional nearby plots. That did not come to fruition and the plan was put off indefinitely. The auto dealer submitted a separate request in 2014 and the council accepted the newer version.

That is where the city's action ran afoul of the law, Cook said, because in 2009 the Utah Legislature changed a municipal code to require a city to halt plans to close a street if any resident is materially injured by the act.

"This affects literally hundreds of people who have used these streets and use them every day," Cook said of the planned closures of Burton and Truman.

He also believes the council failed to give residents' concerns a fair hearing. In a Dec. 3 meeting, the council discussed whether they would close the streets and more than 20 people spoke in opposition. But a week later, Cook said, South Salt Lake City Attorney Lyn Creswell informed the council the deal was already cemented because of the 2008 agreement, and the city's only decision was whether to move forward with the 2008 or 2014 plan.

Cook questioned how the 2008 proceeding was valid "into perpetuity," with no expiration date.

Jody Burnett, the attorney representing South Salt Lake City, said there's no statute requiring the council to put a time limit on the deal, so that does not make the proceedings illegal.

Burnett said the council weighed all aspects of the issue, including residents' concerns over traffic jams and lower property values. But the council also considered the benefits to the city from sales taxes collected from the dealership.

"In terms of weighing and balancing, I think that's absolutely what the council did," Burnett said. "I understand that residents have strong feelings regarding this issue and are deeply disappointed that their elected officials didn't agree with them, but that does not render the decision illegal or arbitrary and capricious in this context."

Plastic barriers currently block the two avenues and were the backdrop for a protest march of about two dozen residents Saturday.

Jeanette Porter, one of the plaintiffs, attended both the rally and the court hearing.

"I oppose giving city streets away to companies," said the longtime resident. "It really affects hundreds of residents for the good of one company."

The court hearing came one day before the primary election for three city council seats. Irvin Jones, the only incumbent seeking re-election, voted in favor of the closure. Councilmen Ryan Gold and Roy Turner, who also supported the road closure, filed as candidates but later dropped out of the race.

ctanner@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner

 

 

 

 

 

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