Judge dismisses motion by City, County to rule on so-called 'Skinner Restriction' downtown

Does the fine print in Eugene Skinner's 1855 deed for the town square block a potential land swap involving the butterfly parking lot at 8th and Oak? (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - A judge declined to rule on whether a parcel of landed deeded to Lane County by Eugene Skinner in the 19th century for county use can be used as the site of a new Eugene City Hall or year-round Farmers Market.

The City and County had hoped to clarify the point as part of ongoing negotiations about construction of a new City Hall and future plans for the Courthouse.

Judge Richard Barron of Coos County denied the motion and dismissed the case.

In essence, Barron said nothing has of yet happened upon which he could render a decision.

"In this case, the City Council directed to City Manager to explore possibilities about a new city hall and about cooperating with the County," Barron wrote. "The City also did not accept bids during the summer of 2016 and decided to rebid the project. Those are not decisions involving important legal issues or the expenditure of significant amounts of public money, which is required by ORS 33.710 for there to be a justiciable controversy. Those are decisions a court cannot review."

At issue is whether or not local governments in the year 2016 must comply with Skinner's wishes from the 1850s.

The town founder deeded the land in what would become downtown Eugene to Lane County for the county's use.

The property has been part of an ongoing land swap discussion by City and County officials. As part of those discussions, the local governments had hoped to resolve whether the county land could be used for a new City Hall, for example.

This restriction on the land has 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."

Ken Darling, a descendant of Skinner, had moved to intervene in the case.

But in late October, Darling said the estimated $10,000 in legal fees would prevent him from pursuing the challenge in court. The family created a website to share its views on the deed and current discussions about the property.

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