February 28, 2005
The Scottsdale City Council this week will get legal advice on abandoning federal easements, even though it has already abandoned them numerous times and allowed buildings to be constructed across them.
Easements are pieces of land designated for roads and utility lines.
The council will be discussing General Land Office easements, a designation created in 1938 by the Federal Small Tract Act.
Most federal easements are 33 feet wide and border 10-acre plots.
"They almost look like brickwork sometimes," said Jim Anderson, a real estate specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management office in Phoenix.
In 1999, the council approved an ordinance allowing the city to abandon, or erase, easements. Since then, residents have accused the city of violating federal law by abandoning the easements, arguing that only Congress can do that.
The issue is "why and how does the city allow people to block federal patent easements?" said Tony Nelssen, a north Scottsdale activist and former Planning Commission member.
Scottsdale views the federal easements the same as any other right-of-way, deputy city attorney Donna Bronski has said at previous presentations.
Therefore, the easements can be abandoned through a public hearing process.
City activists disagree, arguing the easements are protected. They contend that should anyone want access to an abandoned right-of-way — such as one that used to run beneath Notre Dame Preparatory, 9701 E. Bell Road — and be willing to sue, Scottsdale could be forced to remove whatever building is on it.
At times the issue has become heated. Leon Spiro, a Scottsdale resident and easement activist, frequently scolds Mayor Mary Manross and the council on the issue.
While the activists maintain the easements are protected by the federal government, the bureau that regulated them does not agree.
The Bureau of Land Management "believes Scottsdale has acted appropriately with the abandoning," Anderson said.
Nonetheless, the argument persists.
"I gave advice on (federal easements) the whole 3 1 /2 years" he was city attorney, David Pennartz said. "I was asked to respond and I responded several times."
Pennartz left the city in August 2003.
Abandoning easements, however, rarely attracts much attention because it is a dry subject, Nelssen said.
"Who cares unless it affects you?"
What: Scottsdale City Council study session
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.