The City of Logan is looking to build a brand new fire station, but they might have to exercise eminent domain to start building on their preferred lot.
Eminent domain, or the government’s ability to seize private property for public use with compensation, is a controversial action used often as a last resort. This is because it can displace people from their homes or businesses from their locations for what some may deem as unjust compensation and in certain circumstances, unplanned expenses.
Discussions about where to place the fire station have been ongoing for several months now. The city debated building it on the parking lot by 1st and Federal Ave, but received backlash from nearby businesses and property owners, many of whom did not want to see a reduction in parking stalls.
Another option was rebuilding the station, as the Provo Fire Department did in 2019, but Logan Fire Chief Brad Hannig indicated the expenses and difficulty keeping services running would be inconvenient since Station 70 is also the admin building. Hannig also had seismic concerns about the building.
Hannig presented data he gathered after consulting legal firms and fire chiefs from nearby cities such as Ogden to the Logan Municipal Council on Sept. 21.
There he showed 10 possible locations for the new station and the pros and cons of each. The corner of 95 E. 200 North was presented as the best possible location due to the unimpeded access to roads and response times.
Some residents — including some of the property owners who’d have to sell their land to the city — disagreed.
“It’s insulting that Hannig said ‘If rebuilding was convenient, then other cities would have done it.’ Indicating that taking our homes is convenient,” said Rebecca Sharp, partner of Bryson Wilkes. Together the two own and operate a fourplex and duplex on the property Logan is considering buying through eminent domain.
In order to obtain the new location, Logan would need to purchase four lots: one owned by City Center Properties LLC, one owned by J & L Brown Properties and the two owned by Bryson Wilkes. Hannig indicated that both City Center Properties and J & L Brown have worked out tentative deals to sell the property to the city, meaning it would only have to exercise eminent domain to buy out Wilkes.
“This is my home, this is my income/livelihood, this is five generations of family commitment to this property,” Wilkes stated in an email to Mayor Holly Daines. “I have and will continue to put a lot of effort into my properties to make them better for myself, the families that I house and the community.”
The property in question is a fourplex that has been in the family of Wilkes’ partner, Rebecca Sharp, for over a hundred years. Combined with the duplex Wilkes also owns, demolishing these buildings would result in the displacement of 10 families. Wilkes and Sharp said they’ve done everything they can to convince the city to look at a different location, from conducting research of their own to seeking legal counsel.
“Eminent domain is intended to be a last resort,” Wilkes said. “You could rebuild the station where you’re at, you could rebuild behind it, you could rebuild on this church lot down the block, you could rebuild here. You’re using this as what appears to us as ‘This is more convenient for us, so we’re going to go down this path.’ And that’s why we’re pushing back to say this isn’t a truly unbiased thing.”
Wilkes claimed that the data presented by Hannig was biased and lacked sufficient data and research. He said that no research was done into a rebuild cost, nor were the numbers in the presentation consistent. The fire station’s call activity was recorded by address, not incident, which Wilkes insisted could skew numbers if the address happens to be a building with multiple units.
The heat map Hannig presented also did not contain an average, and the numbers could have been taken from several different places. Additionally Wilkes said he believed that because Hannig spoke with other fire chiefs for advice, he was more likely to focus on information that would support his claims.
“The first thing you learn in statistics is that you can tell any story you want with numbers, you just have to cut it a certain way,” Wilkes said. “You’re a fire chief with a vested interest. This needs to be a blind study with no influence by the fire chief.”
Hannig’s top priorities for locations included response time, impact on operations, and the size of the footprint. He wanted a lot larger than one acre with no impact on operations or services and the shortest response time possible. After conducting research with Cache County property records as well as consulting firms and other fire chiefs, he determined the original location presented to the Municipal Council, the parking lot off Federal Ave, would actually be the worst location out of the 10. The 95 E. 200 North option is also five points ahead of the second-best location, according to Hannig’s chart.
“The study was a very comprehensive and objective process that took away some of our opinions,” Hannig said. “I know it’s unfortunate for some, but it is my responsibility to look out for the welfare of our ability to continue to provide services in the best location to make the most difference. We tried to take out the subjectivity of it and make it more objective with those considerations.”
The research conducted by Wilkes and Sharp was based on criteria from Hannig’s research and showed the discrepancies of cost, access, size and benefits. The couple claimed their property was worth more than Hannig claimed it would cost to acquire and other options had unimpeded access to necessary roads. Other lots, they stated, were also much bigger and much cheaper than their lot.
“What’s frustrating is that we said, ‘Hey, there are some errors here, can you please address this?’ No one acknowledged us. Nothing was ever said,” Sharp said.
While Hannig acknowledged the claim that this was a biased study, he also claimed Wilkes had a bias in the project as well and that skewed the new research he presented to Mayor Daines and the Municipal Council.
“We developed our rubric based on the knowledge and experience we’ve had over the past 29 years. He certainly couldn’t do that with no experience in the field,” he said.
“Anything we say is just discarded,” Wilkes said. “We’re not seen as anything with authority or anything they care about. It’s a little bit disheartening because we’ve been working through this for three months, trying to engage with the city, all this back and forth, and it’s really hard because they aren’t giving us the time to engage.”
A time has not yet been decided for when the Logan Municipal Council will vote on the new location of the fire station. Out of all the Council members Wilkes has reached out to, only Council Chair Mark Anderson has replied. The two are currently in touch with both Mayor Daines and the city’s legal team.
“I understand that we are a biased party,” Sharp said. “We tried not to be and to interpret this as best as we can.”