Gehrke: Millcreek is turning to the Legislature for help as it fights with Salt Lake City over Brickyard Plaza

(Rachel Molenda | The Salt Lake Trbune) Brickyard Plaza on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019.

A turf battle between Salt Lake City and the recently incorporated Millcreek City may bubble up in the Utah Legislature, creating a new way for one city to seize land from another.

In 1978, Salt Lake City annexed Brickyard Plaza — at the request of the developer who wanted Salt Lake City water — and ever since then has collected the tax revenue it generates.

Growing up in the area, it always seemed odd to have that island of Salt Lake City surrounded by areas of unincorporated Salt Lake County.

It has been a sore spot for Millcreek since it incorporated two years ago. Last May, the Millcreek City Council passed a resolution asking Salt Lake City to give it back and offered to share the tax revenue for the next 10 years.

That proposal fell flat, so now Millcreek is looking for a way to take back the property by essentially re-annexing it and is working with Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, on legislation that would help it accomplish that goal.

“We think the Brickyard is a wrong that should be righted,” Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini said. “It was an annexation crime, a grab of revenue.”

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

Salt Lake City has argued the annexation was legal when it was done, but Silvestrini counters that “it was legal to put sawdust in hot dogs at one time. That doesn’t make it right today.”

Salt Lake City, as you can probably guess, isn’t just going to hand over the land or the $3 million in tax revenue it generates.

Millcreek knew what the boundaries were when it voted to incorporate and issues should’ve been worked out before the vote, said Salt Lake City Councilwoman Amy Fowler.

And it’s not just the potential “hostile takeover” of Brickyard that has Fowler concerned. A map of future land use Millcreek prepared last month identifies other areas for possible annexation, including a long swath of Salt Lake City stretching along 2700 South from the mouth of Parley’s Canyon all the way down to 700 East.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

If that were to happen, the councilwoman wouldn’t even live in Salt Lake City anymore.

Millcreek’s map also contemplates annexing portions of Murray where K-Mart used to be and a section north of 4500 South west to the Jordan River, as well as taking up a piece of unincorporated Salt Lake County south of the Van Winkle Expressway.

Murray spokeswoman Jennifer Heaps said Murray hasn’t had any discussions with Millcreek representatives about these plans.

It’s common for cities to agree to adjust their boundaries, Fowler said. Salt Lake City, for example, recently handed over a park to South Salt Lake.

“To do that sort of a thing as a land grab is not only uncommon, but then to do it with potential state legislation is really, I think, inappropriate and sets a bad precedent if that were to pass,” she said. “What stops a city from just taking over another city? It doesn’t really make any sense and this is coming out of left field.”

Silvestrini said his city isn’t interested in any “land grab.” It wants the land near Parleys Canyon because it feels like Millcreek is better equipped to deal with wildfire issues, should they arise, and it could serve as a gateway to the city.

The other areas, he said, were included in the plan as a contingency, in case residents of those areas someday decide they want to join Millcreek. Under the law, he notes, that process would have to be initiated and supported by the residents.

Schutlz’s bill isn’t public yet. As the mayor understands it, it would clarify the process for cities that want to annex disputed land — like the Brickyard area. Schultz told me he doesn’t think it makes sense for Salt Lake City to have an island of land surrounded by Millcreek, but he hopes the two cities can work out an agreement.

Millcreek will have another advocate in the House — Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, also works as Millcreek’s economic development director.

New Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke said he met recently with Winder and Silvestrini and, when he resisted their Brickyard proposal, they said “do you want to get the Legislature involved?” Luke took it as a threat, one he thinks they’re following through on.

“The approach is just totally wrong,” he said. “Based on all the stuff that has been taking place … I’m not in any mood to look at doing something that is going to benefit them at this point.”

Of course, lurking in the background is Salt Lake City’s recent unpleasant pummeling at the hands of the Legislature, when lawmakers took control of nearly a quarter of the city and all of the tax revenue it generates to develop an inland port west of the airport. Could history repeat itself?

A few things are clear: This isn’t the ideal way for good neighbors to settle these sorts of things. Millcreek’s case for the land near Parley’s Canyon makes sense, but bad blood generated over Brickyard could keep it from happening.

Second, we shouldn’t immediately look to the Legislature to solve municipal squabbles, nor should they keep coming back to carve chunks out of Salt Lake City. This is something Salt Lake City and Millcreek should be able to work out on their own and it should be driven by residents, not legislators.

Because, if this keeps up, next thing you know they’ll be taking a page out of President Donald Trump’s playbook and construct a magnificent wall along the border of the two towns.