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February 04, 2015 News » Cover Story

Garage Grit 

In the shadow of Rio Tinto Stadium, garage owner Robbie Maupin fights a municipal land grab

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click to enlarge “I still tried to get along,” Maupin says. - NIKI CHAN
  • Niki Chan
  • “I still tried to get along,” Maupin says.

Believing in a Dream

Maupin drives a beat-up 1999 Ford Escort. His customers, he says, tend to be as broke as he is. "In some way or another, we are here to help out somebody who needs it," he says.

That's a philosophy that real-estate agent Scovel, a former captain of an oil rig, shares, at least when it comes to Maupin's battles to keep his garage. Rather than let Maupin admit defeat, the stocky, brash 70-year-old with a North Carolina twang has invested considerable energy and his own time into digging into the mysterious events surrounding Sandy City's purchase of land from Ogden that Maupin's complaint describes as "an unlawful taking." Tamie Ogden declined an interview request by City Weekly.

"He's a mechanic's mechanic," Scovel says about Maupin. "But he's not a businessman. He could hear your car down the road and tell you what's wrong with it, but give him a piece of paper to sign and he wouldn't know what it meant."

Almost 38, Maupin has blond hair that his wife braids into a fish-tail down his back. Spring through fall, he's rarely wearing a shirt.

"Ever since I can remember, I've been tearing shit apart just to see how it works," Maupin says. He's also been searching for a home to do it. "It's always been our dream to have a shop like this," he says about Garage 94.

In 1995, as a 16-year-old, Maupin first drove by Garage 94 shortly after owner Mike Ogden bought it, and asked for work. Maupin worked for Ogden for 18 months, before deciding he wanted to have his own garage. He found a garage in Riverton and two years later, he was forced out after developers bought the land.

He moved to a garage on State Street just past 9000 South and was there two years before the owner sold the property to another developer who put in offices. By January 2002, Maupin was tired of moving, and when he learned Mike Ogden wanted to sell Garage 94, he offered to buy it.

In an affidavit, he described Ogden as "a very good friend," who at times had lived at Maupin's home. "Mr. Ogden's understanding of contracts and real estate matters is as bad as mine. We are mechanics, not lawyers. We had a lot of trust between each other."

Maupin agreed to pay Ogden $225,000 for the garage, its tools and customers. Maupin would pay $1,940 a month until he could get the financing to buy Ogden out. It was all going fine, Maupin says, until Ogden reunited with his former wife, Tamie, and Sandy City announced that RSL was going to build its soccer stadium in Maupin's back yard.

In the wake of Mayor Dolan's 2005 announcement that a mix of public and private funding—including $10 million from Sandy—had led to RSL agreeing to build a stadium between 9200 South and 9400 South just off Interstate 15, Scovel walked around the proposed site, asking businesses if they wanted to sell to RSL.

In Scovel, a curmudgeonly scrapper, Maupin found someone he could trust, Emily says. "He's like me," Maupin says. "He wants to help, he doesn't get paid for this shit, just like me. It's about somebody getting screwed over and somebody doing the screwing and it's not right."

Maupin didn't want to move but he couldn't turn down the opportunity, either. In late October 2005, he agreed to list it with Scovel for $800,000, only for Scovel to discover that Mike and wife Tamie Ogden—they had remarried—had put the garage up for sale for $300,000. Scovel believes the Ogdens intended to sell it to Sandy City.

The Ogdens sought to evict Maupin, claiming he was leasing the garage, rather than having bought it from Mike Ogden three years prior. Scovel dug up tax records and divorce filings that showed Ogden had sold the garage to Maupin. By the time Maupin sued the Ogdens for ownership of the property in late November 2005, he had paid property taxes for almost four years and close to $100,000 to the former owner through monthly payments.

After a 3rd District Court judge dismissed the Ogdens' attempt to quell Maupin's lawsuit, and after mediation, the two parties agreed to a settlement and a new purchase contract with Maupin buying the garage outright. That contract, Scovel says, "did not say anything about withholding land they were trying to sell."

click to enlarge Rio Tinto Stadium as viewed from the canal’s western bank - NIKI CHAN
  • Niki Chan
  • Rio Tinto Stadium as viewed from the canal’s western bank

Finally Mine

Maupin wasn't out of the woods yet, however. Unbeknownst to him, there was still the matter of the canal to deal with.

The East Jordan Irrigation company canal crosses the eastern edge of Maupin's property. Land surveyor Stahl, who, in 1995, worked on a boundary dispute involving nine land parcels including Garage 94, says that the canal has an unrecorded, statutorily granted easement for a right of way historically conveyed by the federal government. What that easement grants the canal company, he says, "is the right to be there, to own and operate the canal."

Canal company president Bill Marcovecchio says that right of way extends 33 feet either side of the canal's center line.

Maupin closed on the sale of his property on Sept. 21, 2007. His documents contain a legal description that establishes the property boundaries dating back to 1991, setting his eastern boundary as midpoint in the East Jordan canal. Ten days later, Integrated Title Insurance Services (ITS), representing the Ogdens, issued a warranty deed to Maupin—which he simply filed rather than examined—with an additional clause below the legal description of the property. The Ogdens deeded the land to Maupin, "Less and excepting therefrom any portion lying within the East Jordan Canal and the East Jordan Canal Company right of way."

ITS would later state in a 2013 letter to Sandy City that it added that description in an "abundance of caution," meaning that, as Scovel understood it, they wanted Maupin to be clear the canal company had a right of way.

What the title company was "excepting" was the canal's easement, Stahl says. That means, he says, "there's no written deed that describes what this land is. The interpretations Sandy is trying to make on this deed—that Tamie Ogden owned a strip of land—don't make any sense at all."

Download: Land Surveyor Affidavit

In an affidavit, Tamie Ogden stated she and her husband had always intended to sell the easement to Sandy. How Sandy City was able to translate an unwritten agreement for access in favor of the canal company into a legal description of a property it could purchase, left Maupin, Scovel and Stahl scratching their heads.

"You usually don't see people intentionally creating a legal description out of thin air," Stahl says. "There didn't seem to be much thought that went into the creation of that deed. It was highly improper in my mind."

For five years, Salt Lake County assessed Maupin as the owner of the entire property, "until the July 31, 2012, update reflecting a new parcel of land appearing in the title record," Stahl noted in his affidavit, creating a subdivision on Maupin's property without the mechanic ever being consulted.

Land surveyor Stahl believes Sandy made "a serious misinterpretation" of the deed. Then the municipality folded its arms and refused to acknowledge it had gone wrong. "Somebody certainly was mistaken and mistakes were made," Stahl says. "People just need to own to their mistakes." Scovel, however, argues Sandy City pursued "a well-designed scheme" to gain control of part of Maupin's land.

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