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'The County will seek the cooperation of descendants of the Skinners'

Lane County wants land where Eugene City Hall once stood as part of a land swap. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - Do you count town founder Eugene Skinner among your ancestors?

Lane County administrators have proposed a new maneuver in their quest to engineer a land swap between the County and City of Eugene so they can build a new Eugene City Hall and County Courthouse center.

Long story short: it involves taking Skinner's kin to court.

County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky proposes the action in a bid to finally resolve the legal quagmire raised by the so-called Skinner Restriction.

Last year, a judge declined to rule on whether the restriction applies - but suggested the parties might take Skinner's ancestors to court to settle the matter.

Now the county wants to do just that - with the cooperation of Skinners descendants.

"The County will seek the cooperation of descendants of the Skinners and other parties interested in confirming that the intent of the language in the original deed is carried out," Mokrohisky wrote to City Manager Jon Ruiz. "The County will petition the court to determine that the donors placed no restriction upon the use of that property that would prevent construction of the City's projects as planned."

In a nutshell: The county possesses land deeded to it by Skinner for county seat purposes. The county wants to swap a portion of that land with the city for city purposes. And so far, courts have been unable to rule whether Skinner's intentions would prevent that from happening.

So now Mokrohisky has proposed taking a legal action called a “quiet title action”.

The move is "a lawsuit to establish a party's title to real property against anyone and everyone, and thus 'quiet' any challenges or claims to the title," according to Law.com. "Such a suit usually arises when there is some question about clear title, there exists some recorded problem (such as an old lease or failure to clear title after payment of a mortgage), an error in description which casts doubt on the amount of property owned, or an easement used for years without a recorded description. An action for quiet title requires description of the property to be 'quieted,' naming as defendants anyone who might have an interest (including descendants-known or unknown- of prior owners), and the factual and legal basis for the claim of title."

Devon Ashbridge with Lane County said a ruling could take 90 days to a full year. The county proposes to reimburse the City of Eugene for planning costs associated with the delay.

"The quiet title process does require 2 parties to the legal process in order to move forward," Ashbridge said. "The end goal is to create the most vibrant downtown, the best use of space that we can and we think we're working toward the best solution."

The move would require the City Council's OK.

And some City Councilors have expressed reservations.

Among them: Councilor Mike Clark, who said this latest proposal shows both sides are on the wrong track with City Hall.

"I'm really not sure that's the best idea. But I think it highlights the fact that we've been on the wrong track with City Hall for a while," he said Wednesday. "It would be so much more expensive to do this across the way and it's not a legal certainty that we can do it, or that once we did it, it wouldn't have to come down."

Clark sill wants the Council to consider buying and remodeling the Eugene Water & Electric Board building on the waterfront. EWEB plans to consolidate operations at its Roosevelt Boulevard operations center in the future.

"With a few million more, $5 million maybe, it could be retrofit for 100,000 square feet of usable space for City Hall," Clark said.

Regardelss, Ashbridge said the county remains interested in the vacant lot where Eugene City Hall stood before being demolished.

"The county is still interested in purchasing the former City Hall lot," she said, "even if the city determines that it's not in a position or not comfortable purchasing the butterfly lot."

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