Plaza access likely to remain for while

Deseret News, Jan. 18, 2003
By Brady Snyder, Deseret News staff writer

      Lonnie Pursifull and other street preachers continue to have access to Main Street Plaza.

      That access likely will continue until Salt Lake City approves Mayor Rocky Anderson’s latest land-swap compromise, which would return the right to control speech on the plaza to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

      The city could reject Anderson’s compromise and opt for another course of action, but that seems unlikely.

      Anderson has initiated a process that could eventually lead to approval of his proposed land swap. He filed a petition with the city’s planning division asking the city to vacate its easement on Main Street Plaza and approve the transfer of 2 acres near the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center from the LDS Church to the city.

      The petition will be reviewed by several community councils and the Planning Commission before being voted on by the City Council. That process could take several months. In the meantime, street preachers have free rein on the plaza.

      Also, the American Civil Liberties Union has asked U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart to clarify a ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down Stewart’s earlier plaza ruling.

      Stewart’s clarification would help define what activities are legal expression on the plaza and what activities are illegal. It would also allow the ACLU to collect its legal fees from the city and possibly the LDS Church. The city and LDS Church have asked Stewart to wait because, they say, they are working to rectify the situation outside the courtroom.

      When the city sold the block of Main Street to the church in 1999, it retained a public-access easement across the proposed plaza. In response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled the easement creates a free-speech forum, similar to what exists on public sidewalks.

      The church didn’t like that decision because it paid $8.1 million for the land and the ability to control what happens there, including restricting protests, demonstrations, leaflet distribution, and some dress and speech.

      The court suggested the city either give its easement to the church — dissolving the right to public access and free speech — or create time, place and manner restrictions for the plaza.

      Anderson’s proposed property-swap, announced Dec. 16, calls for a 2-acre parcel owned by the LDS Church to be given to the city in exchange for the city’s easement across the Main Street Plaza.

      The land on Salt Lake’s west side would be developed by the Alliance for Unity. The organization plans to raise $5 million for a building where the University of Utah and Intermountain Health Care would offer free legal, business and medical advice as well as educational opportunities for children and adults.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday January 19, 2003.
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