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Help american preparatory academy gain safe access to their school

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keep apa kids safe

For years,  American Prep has been trying to gain secure, safe access for their school. The public road, 11950 S. runs adjacent to the school but is not accessible to the school's families. A developer claims that he owns property surrounding the entire public road, and that he alone can control who is able to use the public street. He has even gone so far as to put up fences surrounding the road so that no one can access the road owned by the taxpayers of Utah. The State paid for a traffic light to be put in the week before school started, but the students have never been able to use it and it only benefits the developer and his business tenants. When the issue was brought before Draper City, they had the opportunity to fix the problem. However, instead of standing up to the developer, a city council member recommended that the school "acquire one of the homes [in the neighborhood to the north of the school], and punch a road through" to the school, requiring that we demolish a home. This plan has caused serious disruption to the neighborhood, and has cost the school hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that should have been spent in the classroom. APA has now brought this issue to court and lacks only the help of either Draper City or the State Charter School Board in gaining court-ordered access to the road. Signing our petition above will help us press this issue to the judge, and finally result in safe ingress and egress to our neighborhood school for our students and families. For the whole KSL story, click here.

Facts Vs. Fiction

WHAT IS A CHARTER SCHOOL?

Definition from the Utah Board of Education website:

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools open to any state resident created by a group of parents, teachers or community leaders who see an educational need in their community.

In Utah, a Charter is issued by the Utah Board of Education, board of trustees of an institution of higher education or a local school board to a non-profit entity.  That entity functions much as a school district in procuring a facility and operating a school.  Charter schools are tuition-free, with nonsectarian admissions policies and curriculum.  The main difference is that Charter Schools don’t have the authority to levy property taxes.  Like districts, Charter Schools receive their funding on a “per student” basis from the State.  The Attorney General and the Utah Supreme Court have confirmed that Charter Schools are Public Schools.

WHO are APA and UCA?

American Preparatory Academy (“APA”) is the name used by Utah Charter Academies, Inc. (“UCA”)for its schools.  UCA is the non-profit corporation that was issued the Charter from the Utah Board of Education.  The Governing Board of UCA consists of parents of APA students who serve on a volunteer basis.  Board members “retire” when their children leave the school and other APA parents replace them.

UCA is not privately owned, or operated as a profit-making business.  The bonds that were issued to finance this public school are backed by the moral obligation of the State of Utah.  If for whatever reason UCA could not make the bond payments, the State of Utah has pledged to make the bondholders whole.  The school’s assets, including the land and the school building on Lone Peak, would revert back to the State of Utah if the school stopped operation.

WHY IS THERE A PROPERTY DISPUTE?

The developer of the property to the south claims to own a 2-foot strip of property between the public road 11950 South Street and the school property.  UCA commissioned a survey prior to purchase, which did not show the alleged 2-foot strip of property.  This survey was recorded with SL County as is required by law.  In 2012, when the public hearing for the school’s “Site Plan Approval” was advertised, the developer notified Draper that it claimed ownership of the 2 feet between the street and the school, and would not authorize access to the school from the public street.  The developer subsequently recorded its own survey about 6 years after the fact.  Utah law requires that a survey be recorded within 6 months.

IS THIS dispute THE RESULT OF BAD PLANNING?

The best plan for the APA campus was the one originally submitted to Draper City in November of 2012.  That plan included access to 11950 South.  When the property dispute arose in December 2012, the UCA Board was faced either with forcing hundreds of families to find another school for Fall 2013 or revising the site plan.  UCA’s surveyor assured UCA that the 2’ strip did not exist.  Even so, UCA began negotiations with the developer  to obtain access without going to court.  Therefore, the decision was made to revise the plan for the time being to include the north access that presently exists.  The drive approach to 11950 South was left in place so that it would be merely a matter of paving the 2 feet once the problem was resolved.  This change allowed construction to proceed so that the school could open seven months later.  Negotiations ultimately failed and the issue is presently working its way through court.

WHAT IS DRAPER CITY’S ROLE IN THIS DISPUTE?

Draper City would not approve the original site plan until the dispute was resolved by either negotiations or court order.  Although Draper approved the revised plan, we have been asked many times why the City has not helped resolve the issue.

Only the Court can determine ownership in a property dispute, and that issue is presently before the 3rd District Court.  Draper could resolve the issue by exercising its power of eminent domain to condemn the strip (if it exists).  We have asked that Draper City do so, but it is the City’s position that “this is not a public matter, it is a matter between two private land owners.”  We feel that this position is incorrect.  APA is a public school.  Draper would be equally incorrect to say that a property dispute between Canyons School District and a private property owner is between two private land owners.  The only difference is that Canyons School District has established eminent power and could solve the problem themselves.  Utah eminent domain law is not tested as it relates to Charter Schools.

If the school ceases to exist as a public school, ownership of the land and the building will revert to the State of Utah and to the taxpayers.  There are no private investors or private owners in either the school land or the buildings.  This is an issue of a private land owner using a 2-foot grudge strip to prevent a public school access to a public road.  Draper has the authority to condemn the 2’ strip if they choose to exercise it.

The State provided funds to improve 11950 South Street and the Lone Peak Intersection, including a traffic signal.  Draper City used some of those funds to install the light shortly before the 2013 school opening because they thought a negotiated agreement was forthcoming.  When it became clear that an agreement could not be reached, Draper used the rest of the funds to widen Lone Peak, relocate the Aquarium driveway, and to widen 11950 adjacent to Lone Peak.

LITIGATION WAS OUR LAST RESORT

Although we believe our survey is correct and the school owns the land, we tried to negotiate an amicable solution.  When the developer tried to assert its position by installing a fence on our property, instead of litigating, we replaced a portion of the fence with a gate to accommodate emergency vehicles as required by the State Fire Marshall.  We installed a “fire department access only” lock so that access was barred until the dispute was resolved.  The developer, though,  sent a letter to Draper City in early March, 2017 informing the City that it intends to remove the gate and install a permanent fence on or before June 15, 2017.  This action serves no purpose and would reduce our student’s safety and, if not illegal, it demonstrates great disrespect to the 3rd District Court and the safety of the students.  We intend to file an injunction preventing such an action until the Court has ruled on the matter.

Members of our board met with the developer in its offices on four different occasions to inquire and negotiate a solution without success.  We waited to see if the City of Draper would resolve this dispute when the developer applied to the City for a subdivision on additional property owned by the developer and located contiguous to land owned by the school.  The city approved this subdivision request that included a plan that actually enlarged and extended his 2-foot grudge strip rather than working with APA to provide a solution for access.  It was only after all these efforts and after 2 years of discussion and debate, did the school seek relief in court.

EMINENT DOMAIN

American Prep acknowledges that private property rights are critical to liberty and economic prosperity; however, certain public functions such as public education are also critical to liberty and economic prosperity. The 5th amendment to the US Constitution forbids the taking of private property for public use without “just compensation”.  Eminent domain is only used when a clear public use can be demonstrated, and then requires that the private property owner receives “just compensation”.  We don’t believe the 2-foot strip of property exists, but if it does, we are more than happy to pay “just compensation.” We therefore commissioned an appraisal of the 2-foot strip of property and made an offer to purchase the property at full appraised value.  The developer declined to sell the 2-foot parcel.

We presently have a request before the State Charter School Board asking that it act as the condemning agency in an eminent domain action.  We would also welcome a decision by Draper City to exercise its eminent domain power for the public use as a road.  It appears that without resolution by other means, Draper will have no ability to cause the north half of 11950 South Street to be finished.  We have communicated to both Draper City and the State Charter School Board that UCA is willing to pay the “just compensation” required by acquisition by eminent domain.

WHY IS APA TEARING DOWN A HOUSE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD?

The construction of the High School to the west of the existing APA campus requires a 2nd emergency access.  We anticipated that the dispute over access to 11950 Street would have been resolved by now and it would have served as the 2nd access.  It now appears that there may not be a Court decision in time to use the 11950 access beginning Fall 2017.  A 2nd access must be in place before a Certificate of Occupancy is issued for the new building.  APA has therefore been compelled to acquire a home in an adjacent residential neighborhood and slate it for demolition, to provide an emergency access point.  This is not only costly and wasteful, but a hindrance to the neighborhood impacted by the access.