A moratorium on burial plot sales at the Clark Historic Farm in Grantsville has ended and a portion of the historical property may be sold.
On Wednesday evening the Grantsville City Council revisited the moratorium proposed by Councilman Scott Stice and passed in a 3-2 vote on Sept. 3.
But instead of reaffirming the hotly debated issue, which Mayor Brent Marshall said was in a legal “gray area,” the council decided to abandon the moratorium — with the understanding the city would have to approve cemetery plot sales at the Clark Historic Farm.
“Right now we don’t need a moratorium because we’re not going to start selling them, and the plan is to not sell them until we all decide it’s OK to start selling them,” Stice said.
Along with the moratorium, however, the council discussed the possibility of selling a portion of the property.
The property now known as the Clark Historic Farm was purchased in the 2000s by Grantsville City in three chunks for $335,000. It was once owned by J. Reuben Clark Jr., an LDS Apostle and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
In 2009, a 40-acre parcel immediately north of the house and other buildings, was designated to be the city’s cemetery expansion when its present cemetery, located across the street from the farm, filled to capacity.
The city implemented a sprinkling system and other improvements to the proposed cemetery at a cost of about $35,000. The expense came out of the city’s cemetery budget.
Last year, a group called the Friends of the Clark Farm protested the use of the farm as a cemetery, citing a loss of historical value to the property if it were used for the expansion. The group has since hosted several community events, including a farmer’s market, live Nativity and baby animal days.
Last month the city purchased a 3.1-acre lot adjacent to its current cemetery’s eastern border for $82,000. The property is currently undergoing improvements to allow it to be used as a cemetery expansion and other city uses.
At the same September meeting in which the moratorium was passed, the council discussed an engineering report that noted improvements to several buildings at the farm would be necessary to make them safe for public use.
The state of those buildings and the necessary repairs was referenced in Wednesday’s discussion about the sale.
“I don’t think the city wants to be responsible for those buildings,” Stice said. “We can’t pay for the upkeep.”
Early repair proposals included the outbuildings and a portion of the yard of the house, but excluded the house.
Councilman Tom Tripp said the council needed to do more research before talking seriously about selling part of the Clark Farm.
“I think we’re all moving in some direction, but I don’t think we know exactly what we want to do,” he said. The councilman noted the area would have to be surveyed, have lines drawn and be appraised.
The council scheduled a work meeting for next Wednesday to look at the property and determine what features of the property might make a good line to split the lot. A formal appraisal and public hearing would also be necessary to sell a portion of the property.
Susan Johnsen, vice president of the board of the Friends of the Clark Farm, said the group will wait until the council has more information and a better idea of its future plans before forming an opinion of the possible sale.
“We’re just going to wait and see what happens at the work meeting and going forward before having a reaction,” she said.
A sale of a portion of the property to a non-government entity was mentioned as a hypothetical but “ideal” situation during a presentation by Karleen Capell, speaking for the Friends of the Clark Farm.
She spoke about a conservation easement the group was interested in applying for through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The easement is for agricultural land with additional public benefits, including historic preservation.
Financial assistance from the NRCS easement would also require matched funds, 25 percent of which can come from the property owner, Capell said; however, because NRCS is federally funded, an owner of a property being a government entity would not be as attractive when deciding where to award easement funds as if it were owned by a private person or group.
Marshall said both the cost and potential liability of the decaying buildings, and the prospect of the easement, have contributed to the discussion about selling a portion of the property.
More predominantly, though, he said, was the use of cemetery funds to improve the parcel for use as a burial ground. Without sales of graves, the city has to seek alternative funding to pay themselves back, he said. The discussion and process for the sale, though, will take time, he said.
“If you’re not going to use that as a cemetery, you have to pay that money back, and that’s where some of the discussion is, and auditors aren’t going to allow you to pay that money back within a short period of time,” Marshall said. “They’re not going to allow you that to just go on and on and on for years. That’s where we’re at right now, just trying to work through some of that stuff.
“It’s an ongoing deal. I don’t know where we’ll go,” he added. “I do know there’s a lot of restrictions as a city if you’re going to sell property. You can’t just arbitrarily do it. So there will be a procedure that will be followed, and that’s outlined in the state code.”