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South Salt Lake Journal

Historic easement and deed transfer discussed at October council meeting

Dec 04, 2019 10:23AM ● By Bill Hardesty

Historic Scott School, which houses a Promise SSL after-school program and the Pioneer Craft House. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

At the Oct. 23 South Salt Lake City Council meeting, many patrons and staff from the Pioneer Craft House (PCH) asked the council to quickly approve the Historic Scott School, 3280 S. 540 East, deed transfer from Salt Lake County to South Salt Lake City.

In 2007, Salt Lake County agreed to buy the property from the Granite School District. The county bonded for the purchase using ZAP (Zoo, Art & Parks) funds. At the time, there was additional agreement that when the bond was paid off, the county would transfer the deed to SSL. 

Simple enough. However, when the bond was paid off in July 2018, no transfer occurred and has yet to occur. Since the original agreement, additional issues have come into play.

Historic preservation easement

The county has placed an historic preservation easement on the property, which makes sense because it is the Historic Scott School. But, by doing so, any future repairs or improvements are guided by the language of the easement.

For example, without the easement, SSL could repair the roof using today's material. With the easement, SSL would have to make repair using historical material.

"According to the estimates we received, using historical material would cost the city three times more," Mayor Cherie Wood said.

Wood also pointed out that no national definition of an historic preservation easement applies. The buildings have never been maintained at this level.

"While I am dedicated to keeping the arts at Historic Scott School and making it a gem in the city, I also have to be a wise steward over the city's funds," Wood said.

About eight months ago, SSL asked the county to remove the historic preservation easement. During further discussions, the county agreed to remove the historic preservation easement on the property. However, when the city received the latest deed transfer paperwork, the historic easement was still in place.

If the city takes ownership of the property with the easement in place, the historic easement remains on the property. SSL cannot remove it.

Jeff Hatch, chairperson of the Pioneer Craft House, added a different perspective by describing why the historic preservation easement is important.

"The Historic Preservation Easement includes some requirements that the city maintains facilities in the condition they are currently. Not exactly a high bar, but it does not require additional ADA compliance or address HVAC and water for the ‘fire arts’ building (the yellow cinderblock building used for jewelry and ceramics). Going forward, if we want to build a new addition to that building to replace the greenhouse/kiln structure, the city would need Salt Lake County consent for such changes."

Stated another way, the Historic Preservation Easement provides a check on possible future actions of SSL.

SSL and SL County are still negotiating the transfer and the placement of the easement.

Bad blood

In July 2012, Pioneer Craft House sued SSL for violating their rights to due process and pointing out to the court that an eviction notice was not properly served. The eviction notice was given on July 23, 2012.

The eviction notice stems from an issue on rent. An earlier city administration signed an agreement with PCH allowing them to pay $1 per year for rent.

The current administration determined that this agreement violated what is called the Doug Short Law. In 1996, Doug Short, who was the Salt Lake County attorney, sued the Salt Lake County Commission over the way they provided funds and support to non-profit entities. The whole affair became nasty and painful. As a fallout of this situation, it was determined that governmental entities need to receive fair market value for rental property.

The rent for PCH went from a $1 a year to $1,200 a month. PCH paid rent for a bit but stopped seeking for some other resolution.

Since the city had to get outside counsel, the case was costly. After spending $250,000, the city won. This terminated the 2008 10-year lease agreement.

No rent

For some time, PCH has not paid any rent. According to Hatch, there is no agreement in force. 

"Immediately following the conclusion of the lawsuit, we asked the city to draft a lease agreement. This was supported by council members, and Kathryn Steffey (outside counsel to the city) prepared a draft month-to-month lease. We proposed a longer term and the city refused, so we accepted the draft with a couple of minor changes. The mayor and Lyn Creswell did not respond to the changes and never offered any alternative. Our last discussion with the mayor was in November 2017 after a new attorney representing us spent several months in conversations with Lyn Creswell. At the November meeting, Lyn Creswell indicated there were problems with the city giving us, as a nonprofit entity, a conventional real estate lease, and he would provide our attorney with alternate forms of agreement for us to consider. He never supplied anything to our attorney before he retired from the city."

Wood added, "While we discussed the possibility of entering into a month to month lease with PCH, we were unable to reach an agreement."

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