Thursday , April 12, 2018 - 5:00 AM
LAYTON — Kays Creek burbles behind the county library, bisecting peaceful parkway land near the Layton City offices.
But when Bud Willey thinks of the creek and the adjoining land, he just sees red.
Willey has accused Layton City of cheating him in two land ownership battles. City officials deny wrongdoing and dispute all of Willey’s allegations.
“They told me to go to hell, and they’re waiting for me to die,” Willey, in his 80s and a longtime resident of the Layton-Kaysville area, said.
The trouble began in 2000 when the city offered to buy 2.6 acres between the Davis County Library Central Branch and Kays Creek. The city wanted the land for a library parking lot, to expand the creek trail and for flood control purposes.
Willey and six relatives owned the acreage, each holding an undivided one-seventh share. The other six sold to the city but Willey held out, contesting what he called a “low-ball” appraisal of the land’s market value.
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The two sides never agreed on a price, the parking lot went in, and Willey sued the city in 2010.
Beginning in 2001, the suit said, the city leased the 2.6 acres to the county for the parking lot for $1 a year. Willey the next year demanded he be compensated for rent of the property.
The city took Willey’s property without just compensation, violating the Fifth Amendment and the Utah Constitution, the suit argued.
District Judge David Hamilton on Nov. 4, 2013, ordered the city to pay Willey $7,000 for 12 years of rent based on fair market value. The judge also ordered the city to pay Willey another $52,720 for his share of the property ownership.
Willey again disagreed with the fair market value accepted by Hamilton, which was based on a new appraisal commissioned for the trial, arguing the land had greater value because of its location along Kays Creek.
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But Phil Cook, a Salt Lake City appraiser who made the valuation used at trial, said the appraisals are influenced by changing market conditions and reflect the value only as it stands at the time of a particular appraisal.
A property’s highest and best use is a major factor as well, Cook said.
According to Steve Garside, assistant city attorney, “It’s not buildable property and it’s in the floodplain.”
Willey said he donated three pieces of property to Layton years ago.
“They were good people and you could trust them,” Willey said. “Then they got some new people in there and they think they can walk on water and they have all the authority.”
GAP PROPERTY AND BATTLING QUIT-CLAIM DEEDS
In 2012, Willey reviewed the recorded property descriptions and discovered that a half-acre strip on the west side of Kays Creek was not included with the disputed 2.6 acres on the east side.
So he filed a quit-claim deed with the county recorder for that half acre, described as a gap property.
“A quit-claim only conveys whatever interest you may have on that property,” County Recorder Richard Maughan said. “If you have nothing, it conveys nothing. It establishes a timeline, a time stamp, saying you have recorded this quit-claim deed to put people on notice that you feel like you have a claim.”
In 2014, a quit-claim deed signed by Layton Mayor Bob Stevenson was filed on the same half-acre.
“Layton City has taken that piece of property from me,” Willey said. “When Bob Stevenson filed that it put a cloud on my property. I can’t sell it to anybody.”
The city then cut down trees on the land to clear for a portion of a path and a footbridge, Willey said.
He said he complained about that to the city but was told the work was done by the county public works department.
Adam Wright, county public works director, said a county detective asked the department about the work.
“We had not removed any trees in the area,” Wright said. “There were some trees down there and others marked to come down, but it wasn’t anything we could identify as work that we could have done. Apparently, the city had told (Willey) that our workers had done it, but that was not the case.”
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Willey filed another quit-claim deed on the property in 2015.
“They have to buy that property,” Willey said. “They have to pay me just compensation.”
But Garside said the gap land is useful only as part of the larger tract, which the city owns. He said gap properties are not uncommon because of minor deviations in the legal descriptions, and they’re often strips that cannot be built upon.
As a result, Willey’s claim to the gap fails, he said, and “you have to have some type of bona fide interest in the property.”
“We didn’t steal the property,” Garside said. “Our position is that it is in the public interest that there is encumbered interest in a property. We feel it is our obligation to protect public property.”
As for the fight over the value of the 2.6 acres, Garside said appraisers are picked from a list of experienced, peer-reviewed, certified appraisers.
“The city is very circumspect when we have acquired property,” he said. “The last thing we are going to do is roll over people’s rights when it comes to their property. In this case, we have our reality and what Bud considers to be his reality.”
CONTINUING THE FIGHT
Willey said he has met several times over the past two years with Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings and with Utah Attorney General’s Office investigators.
Rawlings declined to confirm the existence of a criminal investigation.
Ric Cantrell, the attorney general’s chief of staff, said, “As a practical matter the AG’s office doesn’t confirm or deny any investigation. We do this to protect the innocent and better triangulate the guilty.”
Garside said the county attorney’s office has interviewed city officials about the land disputes.
“There’s nothing at all that would be from a criminal element,” Garside said. “When two people are disagreeing about the value of property, I don’t see how that even comes close to warranting a criminal investigation.”
Second District Court records show agent John Herndon of the county attorney’s bureau of investigation in March 2017 obtained the audio recordings of a 2013 trial about one of the property disputes.
“If justice is done, and fraud is a criminal offense, there will be jail time and fines,” Willey said.
You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.
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