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LDS Church Backs Andersonon Land Swap for Easement


ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday February 21, 2003

The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 19, 2003
http://www.sltrib.com/
BY HEATHER MAY, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

On the day that the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office began seeking community support for its land-swap proposal as a way to resolve the Main Street Plaza controversy, the LDS Church issued a statement backing the plan.

When LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton stood with Mayor Rocky Anderson in December to announce the proposal — which gives the church the city’s public access and passage easement through the plaza in exchange for church land in Glendale to build a west-side community center — the church leader said it appeared to be a “potential workable solution.”

On Tuesday morning, Burton said: “The church will support the key elements of the proposal.”

It’s an interesting stand, considering the timing — the start of the city’s public campaign. City officials offered a PowerPoint presentation and colorful brochure called “A Turning Point for Peace” to the Downtown Alliance on Tuesday morning, seeking and winning the board’s support for the easement exchange.

The city will make nine more pitches, including to three community councils today, before the proposal goes to the City Council for a vote, which is expected in the spring.

The church’s statement, coming out now instead of after the community process ends, could fuel already-existing suspicions that the proposal is a fait accompli. It also could be seen as a signal for church members to voice their support at the community meetings. Church supporters turned out in force — bombarding the mayor and City Council’s office with phone calls and e-mails — when the church embarked on a public-relations campaign for the easement.

“It’s hard for people to go against what they think is wanted, either by their church or other people they respect or have loyalty to,” said Bonnie Mangold, a resident of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The church’s statement also comes as Anderson is saying he prefers another solution that the church dislikes — namely, that the city keep the easement and allow speech activities on the plaza’s east walkway. Called the “time, place, manner” proposal, it is what Anderson initially suggested to resolve matters in the wake of a federal appellate court ruling that said the church cannot impose restrictions on speech if the city retains the easement.

As the city passes out pamphlets promoting the community-center plan, it also is disseminating details of Anderson’s time, place, manner plan. That handout is titled “The Preferred Solution to the Main Street Plaza Dispute.”

But Anderson said he preferred the community-center proposal when he announced it in December. This week, he said that was only because the “time, place, manner” plan appeared destined for defeat.

Still, there are signs the community-center plan may be in trouble, too.

Alliance for Unity members, who helped broker the proposal, acknowledge it may be difficult to raise the $5 million it has pledged to build the center because of potential litigation. James E. Shelledy, editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is an alliance member.

In addition, Anderson wants to meet with national representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has taken charge of the plaza case from the Utah group, according to the state affiliate’s executive director, Dani Eyer.

The national group has suggested it might sue the city on two grounds if the land swap is approved. One would be based on the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The ACLU contends the city would be vacating the easement only to appease the church, and says that smacks of favoritism.

The other case also could be based on the First Amendment. If the plaza remains open even without the easement, as the church has all but promised, the ACLU could argue that the plaza remains open to speech activities.

“We have been seen by the national ACLU as being a little too understanding about the local politics,” Eyer said. “As the case proceeds from a [free-speech case] to possibly an establishment clause case, the national ACLU has served to remind us this kind of thing could not be happening anywhere else in the United States.”

Stephen Clark, who is advising Utah’s ACLU office and is expected to continue to be heavily involved with the national efforts, said the national office sees this establishment-clause case as relatively clear-cut; whereas, other establishment-clause cases “are somewhat muddled.”

On Tuesday, the mayor’s chief of staff, Dave Nimkin, outlined why the proposed community center, dubbed the Unity Center, is needed. The proposed land swap also includes plans to expand the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center.

Nimkin said residents who want to be involved in activities at the Sorenson Center are being turned away. Some 1,700 children do not get early-childhood programs, which could be added at one of the new centers, and the Sorenson Center only serves a small area of the city.

Nimkin said up to 40,000 residents could be served under the proposal.

But specifics of how the land exchange would occur were scant. There was no explanation of how the special warranty deed — the contract that outlines the sale of the street, the easement and restrictions on behavior — would be amended.

Not surprisingly, the Downtown Alliance board voted to support the land-swap plan. It had issued a statement in December urging the city to vacate the easement.

“It’s good to see something positive come out of conflict,” said Prescott Muir, who also sits on the city’s Planning Commission, which could vote on the matter in April.

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