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Old Documents Ignite New Battle Over Main Street Plaza

Old Documents Ignite New Battle Over Main Street Plaza

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New documents show the city hasn't always been clear on what it wanted in the Main Street Plaza deal.

What were Salt Lake City's original intentions regarding the public easement when it made the deal to sell one block of Main Street to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Today, some old documents ignited a new battle over that very question.

That could be a key issue as this debate unfolds, particularly if there's another court fight.

But Mayor Rocky Anderson and the former City Attorney are at odds over whether the city seriously contemplated giving up the easement here.

If a court were to strike down free speech restrictions imposed by the LDS Church, would the city give up its public access easement across the land?

Back in 1999, then-City Attorney Roger Cutler and his staff grappled with that key issue.

In a letter written at the time to the ACLU uncovered this week by the Deseret News, Cutler wrote, "It is more probable that, if forced to choose, the city would elect to deed the easement to the (church)."

To those who support the LDS Church's position, this letter would seem significant.

But Salt Lake's mayor, who is opposed to giving up the easement, sees it another way.

"One wonders why the city attorney would have put into the contract language guaranteeing the easement and providing the easement would still remain with the city, even if the restrictions declared to be unconstitutional if that isn't what he really meant and if that isn't what the city really meant," Anderson says.

Indeed, Cutler himself testified in court, "this transaction would not have occurred from the city's point of view but for there being a pedestrian passage..."

We asked Cutler today if there is a contradiction between what he said in court -- about how the city considered the easement essential -- and what he wrote to the ACLU -- that the city might give up the easement.

His response: there is a difference between a legal opinion and public policy.

"From a legal point of view, I agree with what Mayor Anderson has said. I think the city has a legally defensible position, that if it did not want to give up the easement, that if they were sued, for example, they would be victorious," Cutler says.

"The second question is an entirely different one. Is that fair? Is that equitable? Should there be a policy change in light of that decision?" he says.

The City Council plans to revisit some of the original dealings in this matter. That will happen December 10.

Next week, the council will decide if it will schedule a public hearing on the entire Main Street issue. That hearing may be set for December 17.

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