South Salt Lake City residents and property owners are taking a disputed street closure to court.
In a filing earlier this month, attorney Craig S. Cook and other South Salt Lake residents and business owners are asking Judge Paul G. Maughan to nullify a decision by the South Salt Lake City Council vacating the historic streets of Burton and Truman Avenues at State Street. The street closures are intended to facilitate the expansion of Salt Lake Valley Chrysler Dodge operations.
In 2008, James Hinckley first asked the South Salt Lake City Council to close these two historic streets in order to expand his car dealership. Despite public objection, permission was granted but only on the condition that Hinckley purchase four private lots east of his dealership. These lots were never purchased. In 2009, then State Senator Greg Bell authored SB 209 making it more difficult to close public streets. The bill supports citizen and community rights by significantly increasing the burden upon any individual or corporation seeking to vacate a public street.
In October 2014, Mr. Hinckley reapplied for permission to vacate the same two streets. On December 3rd, 2014, residents crowded a public hearing and twenty-three people objected in a manner that at times, prompted one council member to ask the Sergeant at Arms to quiet the room. In spite of this strong opposition, a majority of the City Council voted on December 10th to close both streets. A lawsuit was commenced in December 2014 seeking a decision of the court to nullify the city’s action.
Aiming at the legality of the process, four events are alleged to be illegal: A.) The Petition Application did not comply with State Law. B.) The proceedings of the December 3rd and December 10th public hearings denied citizens due process. C.) The conditional 2008 decision was void at inception and violated due process and, D.) Certain members of the South Salt Lake City Council refused to recognize and apply the correct State legal standards.
The two sides of the debate are less complicated; the closure benefits Salt Lake Valley Chrysler Dodge by expanding its footprint and car lot capacity. On the other hand, residents claim that it detrimentally changes traffic patterns, access and, according to many long-time residents, property values. According to Cook, “We submit that the closing of a street is analogous to eminent domain even though the two concepts operate in reverse. In eminent domain private property is taken for the public use. In a street closure, a public street can be taken for private use. In each instance, however, the rights of the property owners and the rights of the street users must be protected at the highest level. “ He maintains that level has not been achieved.
A court decision is expected this summer or fall. Meanwhile, the streets remain open.