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'Now there's a Skinner in town': Great, great grandson joins land swap debate

Eugene Skinner (left) and his great, great grandson Ken Darling (right).

EUGENE, Ore. - Lane County and the City of Eugene want a judge to find that Eugene Skinner's wishes in 1855 are not binding in 2016.

Skinner's great, great grandson said he intends to prove otherwise.

"We feel the letter of the law is very evident," said Ken Darling.

At issue: land that Skinner deeded to Lane County "for the use and benefit of said County of Lane for County seat purposes."

The land at 8th and Oak currently occupied by what is commonly known as the Butterfly Parking Lot has been on the table as part of a possible land swap in downtown Eugene between the City and County.

The City and County want a court to determine "there is no restriction on the County transferring ownership of the Butterfly Lot to allow for the construction of a city hall, farmers market, or other facility."

"As far as a win-win, it's really to establish a clear understanding of the potential possible uses for the Butterfly Lot and having a decision that allows us to do away with any mis-information," said Devon Ashbridge with Lane County.

The so-called Skinner Restriction dates back to before the incorporation of the city.

And it's been enforced before: In 1909, the County ordered the City to remove a City Hall and jail that had been built on the land, according to the City and County's pleadings and a local historian.

The City and County also note a 2007 letter from the presiding circuit court judge which "expressed the belief that the terms of the Skinner deed prevented use of the Butterfly Lot as a city hall, farmers market, or any other purpose that was not courthouse related."

So what would Eugene Skinner say if he were around today?

"He would say, 'You know, I raised my family right,'" Darling said.

Darling said the public reaction to the City of Eugene's attempt to transfer Kesey Square, also known as Broadway Plaza, from public to private ownership prompted him to take action. A deed from the 1970s says that the site must "be forever dedicated to the use of the public."

"That's when I knew that the public was mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore," he said.

He said the City and County want to "twist" the deed "so that they can go about swapping land and doing whatever they feel they can do."

"I really think the public is ready to find a point person or a Skinner family to put the word out to the governments that they are not happy," said Darling, who moved to Eugene in retirement. "Now there's a Skinner in town."

As for proposals to site the Farmers Market on the property, Darling said he does not oppose that plan - so long as it is part of a county square for the public's use.

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