Significant ownership claims on Church property within the Inner Harbor have derailed plans to improve the quality of life for residents of Salt Lake City’s west side.
The board of directors of the Utah Inland Port Authority voted on May 19 to acquire — either by purchase or deed — 41 acres owned by Suburban Land Reserve, a real estate arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The vacant land is nestled between Interstate 80 and a railroad line at approximately 6 South and 5600 West.
Port officials insisted swift action was needed to preserve the land and public funding opportunities.
It turns out that years ago, the Utah Department of Transportation, in partnership with a small Utah railroad company, had secured federal funding for the site to improve traffic, air quality and noise pollution around Poplar Grove in the Salt Lake City neighborhood.
Just days after the Port Authority approved an order to acquire the property, Salt Lake Garfield and Western Railway (SLGW) filed its own significant domain lawsuit in 3rd District Court on May 24.
“This country is critical,” said John Fenton, CEO of Patriot Rail, SLGW’s parent company, “to move forward and do exactly what we want to accomplish.”
Founded in 1891, SLGW provides short-haul service in Salt Lake City and carries freight to and from major railroads, including Union Pacific and BNSF. Patriot acquired SLGW in January 2021.
How Westsiders would benefit
As the company’s rail service has grown, particularly over the past decade, it has been a headache for people living west of the city. From 2016 to 2017 alone, the number of SLGW wagons grew from 3,775 to 6,000 wagons, leading to traffic jams along intersecting roads as trains are set up along the rail lines.
In grant applications to the US Department of Transportation, SLGW and UDOT advocated a project they call “Western Interchange.” This proposal would move the majority of SLGW’s operations to the Suburban Land Reserve lots and away from the company’s current marshalling yard at Poplar Grove.
Notably, the project would also reduce up to 90% of traffic congestion at the 800 West, 900 West, and 1000 West level crossings, as well as six other downtown intersections.
“When this railroad was built in the 1890s,” Fenton said, “this intersection didn’t even exist.”
Less rail traffic at these crossings, which are now in residential areas, also improves safety, helps with night-time noise and dampens emissions from idle vehicles waiting for trains to pass, according to the federal government.
Federal authorities approved UDOT and SLGW’s application in 2018, approving $13.6 million in infrastructure for Rebuilding America for the Western Interchange project. SLGW pledged an additional $9.1 million.
The railroad company also began negotiations to purchase the Suburban Land Reserve properties around this time, court filings show.
SLGW offered $5.4 million in cash last July, according to letters sent to representatives of the church’s real estate holdings. The rail company then increased its bid to $6 million in March.
On April 8, SLGW apparently received notification that the church instead intended to solicit bids for the property – at which time SLGW indicated that it had the right to seek significant domain.
A month later, the railroad repeated its $6 million offer. On May 13, she shared an appraisal that valued the property at $3.7 million with “reasonable access” and $2.2 million with no access (the property is accessible from the freeway to the north and the rail line to the south enclosed) to demonstrate that its submission exceeded market prices.
Suburban Land Reserve officials declined to comment on the story, but previously told The Salt Lake Tribune that after “a competitive marketing process, the Utah Inland Port Authority was the winning bidder from among several interested parties submitting bids on the land.” made”.
Questions remain about the Port Authority’s move
It’s unclear why the Port Authority interfered with SLGW’s purchase plans or how much they offered to compensate the church for the acreage.
In an interview last week, Port Authority executive director Jack Hedge said after Suburban Land Reserve opened the property up for bidding, other buyers were willing to pay more than SLGW and its parent company Patriot Rail.
“Because we have a public purpose,” Hedge said, “we may play closer to the market than Patriot appears willing or able to pay.”
Several Utah public figures and government figures issued letters in support of UDOT and SLGW’s Western Interchange project in 2017, including then Gov. Gary Herbert, the Salt Lake Chamber, the Utah Transit Authority and the Wasatch Front Regional Council.
However, Hedge said he “was not aware” that SLGW had an interest in the Suburban Land Reserve property when the Port Authority decided to make a bid.
“To be honest, our interests and Patriot’s are perfectly aligned,” Hedge said.
Port Authority officials declined to comment after SLGW filed its significant domain complaint on May 24.
The Port Authority last year secured an opportunity to issue up to $150 million worth of bonds, which it would repay with some of the property taxes it collected. A lawsuit currently being considered by the Supreme Court questions whether the Port Authority is even entitled to these revenues.
When asked why the Port Authority is not pursuing significant territory or attempting to acquire the land under the proposed $53 million transshipment facility in the heart of the Inner Harbor, Hedge replied, “We have not felt any urgency or need or concern for the property could be used for other purposes.”
Fenton, CEO of Patriot Rail, said the Port Authority’s efforts to take over the Suburban Land Reserve property could “potentially” jeopardize SLGW’s federal grant. A spokesman for UDOT said the department’s role was simply to “facilitate” the grant and could not say if SLGW’s loss of interest would have any impact on the fate of those funds.
“We want to continue. That’s what we want to do. We want to be good partners,” said Fenton. “There were many different agencies that worked together to bring this grant together and make it happen. Hopefully we can move on and do what’s right for everyone involved.”
https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2022/05/30/inland-ports-effort/ The inland port’s efforts to steal LDS Church property throws a punch at the plan to improve air travel and transportation