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Mayor Posts Main Street Proposal

Mayor Posts Main Street Proposal

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Mayor Rocky Anderson's proposed ordinance to give up guaranteed public access on the Main Street plaza in exchange for another property claims the deal would end community divisiveness and cause only minor problems for pedestrians.

The ordinance, posted Thursday on the city's Web site, is a necessary step in a land-swap deal Anderson and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints crafted to get around an appeals court free-speech ruling affecting the downtown plaza.

Getting rid of the public easement would mean that the church could control speech, dress and behavior on the Main Street property, which "would no longer be a part of the public transportation grid."

"The impact on pedestrian traffic would be minor," the document states.

Those assertions are debatable, and may not remain in the final ordinance, said City Attorney Ed Rutan.

"The individual councilmembers will have to decide," he said.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for June 3. The City Council may vote on the ordinance as early as June 5, said council spokeswoman Cindy Gust-Jenson.

Also posted on the Web with the ordinance proposal are two draft warranty deeds for the plaza and a plot of undeveloped church-owned land in another neighborhood, and a draft real-estate settlement document.

The plaza dispute started in April 1999, when then-Mayor Deedee Corradini and Mormon church President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the sale of one block of Main Street to the church for $8.1 million.

City leaders insisted on public access. The church in turn demanded that there would be no smoking, sunbathing, bicycling, "obscene" or "vulgar" speech, dress or conduct on the plaza.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah sued, arguing the restrictions were unconstitutional.

The lawsuit lost in federal court, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 9 ruled that as long as the easement existed, the city had to uphold free-speech rights on the public sidewalks through the plaza.

The church has since asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal. The high court hasn't responded to the request.

After first saying he'd abide by the 10th Circuit ruling, Anderson, who is running for re-election this fall, proposed in December the city give up control of the easement, which the 10th Circuit said was possible. In exchange, the church would give the city two acres of its land in Glendale, a neighborhood west of downtown, for a community center.

A group called Alliance for Unity pledged $4 million to the project. Philanthropist James Sorenson pledged $1 million, and the church said it would donate $275,000 to the alliance.

The money must be presented at closing, or the deal can't go through, Rutan said.

Meanwhile, public rancor over the plaza dispute simmers.

A December poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune found that more than half -- 58 percent -- of Wasatch Front residents say the plaza dispute has affected relations between Mormons and non-Mormons.

Opponents of selling the easement promise more legal action while supporters praise the deal as an ideal peaceful solution.

Mark Lopez, the staff attorney for the national ACLU who argued the case before the appeals court, said the swap only would lead to more lawsuits.

If the city is seen as bending over backward to insulate the church from critical speech, he said, "you cross the line of separation between church and state."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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