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City Agrees to Exchange Easement with LDS Church for Land on West Side

City Agrees to Exchange Easement with LDS Church for Land on West Side

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Mayor Rocky Anderson said Monday that an agreement has been reached with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the Main Street Plaza.

The city and church have agreed to exchange the sidewalk easements on the church-owned plaza -- which include free speech rights -- for a portion of land on city's west side.

Although only a proposal, Anderson said that in exchange for giving the church all rights to the easement, the church would donate 2.17 acres near the Sorenson Center in Glendale.

"The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ has generously responded to this proposal, by indicating that their initial response is positive and that they look forward to a full and open discussion of the details in a public process," Anderson said.

The land gained by the city would be used for a community center, Anderson said. The proposal would also require the church to and the city to split all costs and attorney fees.

"It is not a done deal. It is nothing on which I will act unilaterally, nor is it something that should be acted on at all until there is full, open, honest public disclosure and dialogue. It is also a proposal that will require agreement between the City Council and me," Anderson said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been poised to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In October, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the Salt Lake City plaza must remain open to free speech, including protests, even though it is owned by the church.

A panel of three 10th Circuit judges found that the church cannot evict protesters or enforce rules of public conduct because the city retains a public easement through the plaza. The church appealed, but the full Denver-based court declined to hear the case.

Anderson had initially refused to give up the easement. The church paid $8.1 million for a block-long section of Main Street in 1999, turning it into an extension of Temple Square. The deal left a public easement for pedestrians and banned a long list of behavior offensive to the church, including sunbathing.

In response to the appeals court's ruling, the church launched its own public relations campaign by delivering packets of information, including a letter from Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley to local church leaders, business owners and community representatives in Salt Lake and Davis counties.

The church also has commissioned a poll of city residents for their thoughts about the plaza.

"Divisions in our community have been drawn, unfortunately along religious lines," Anderson said. "People's motives have been maligned on both sides of this issue. Sometimes it has happened in a very mean-spirited manner."

In Sunday's edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, the newspaper published a copyright poll that said more than half -- 58 percent -- of Wasatch Front residents said the plaza issue has affected relations between Mormons and non-Mormons.

That number rises to 62 percent among Salt Lake City residents. And nearly 70 percent of Salt Lake City Mormons say the dispute has deepened the divide, while 56 percent of non-Mormons share that view.

The poll is the result of interviews with 600 randomly selected adults in Salt Lake, Weber, Davis, Utah, Tooele and Summit counties between Dec. 2-5. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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