Garage Grit | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly

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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Go Along to Get Along

In early 2008, Sandy City and RSL contractors were hard at work not only putting in the stadium, but also putting in a 36-inch pipe along 9400 South in front of Garage 94. They subsequently removed it and replaced it with 42-inch pipe leading up to the East Jordan canal where it connected on the edge of Maupin's land. Backhoes and dump trucks routinely blocked Maupin's gates, and many of his clients either couldn't reach him or thought he had closed. The city raised the gradient of the road, forcing back Maupin's property line and cutting off his corner, he says.

Sandy City insisted Maupin purchase privacy slats to be inserted through the chain link fence surrounding his property. "I still tried to get along, not be too wound up over it," Maupin says.

click to enlarge Sandy City’s Community Action Team was tasked to get Maupin to clean up his property. - NIKI CHAN
  • Niki Chan
  • Sandy City’s Community Action Team was tasked to get Maupin to clean up his property.

Maupin was targeted by city crews tasked with cleaning up properties the city viewed as public nuisances. As such he received a visit from Sandy City's Community Action Team (CAT), comprising Sandy police and employees of its health and other departments.

Numerous officials from Sandy City descended upon Maupin, to address with him everything from the poodles he and his father brought to the garage to keep them company, to the hot-rod parts worth $500 or $600 apiece he stored there, which they made him get rid of. "They wanted to get people to clean up their shit, so they were not moving the stadium into a trashy part of town," Maupin says.

But it was not only city officials whom he believed were gunning for him. The state also conducted a sting of it is own regarding his safety and emissions testing. "I was the guy everybody called when it failed somewhere else," he says.

In early 2011, a customer showed up at the end of the day begging Maupin to pass his car for inspection, even though it had tinted windows. The man, an undercover Utah Highway Patrol officer, asked him if he could get it passed. Maupin says he was preoccupied dealing with the Christmas Eve death of a family member, and to get rid of the customer, he threw out a number, $50. Even as he did the paperwork, he had a sinking feeling and knew he would lose his safety and emissions license.

On Feb. 9, 2011, he took pleas in abeyance on two class B misdemeanors for tampering with records and pretending to be an official safety station.

click to enlarge A water-diverter box installed in 2012 on the eastern corner of Maupin’s land - NIKI CHAN
  • Niki Chan
  • A water-diverter box installed in 2012 on the eastern corner of Maupin’s land

Not Your Land

Maupin first realized that part of his property was no longer his after receiving a certified letter dated March 18, 2013, from Sandy City's attorney, Walter Miller. It informed Maupin that Sandy City had for some time "been acquiring property for a public trail" that would parallel the canal. Miller wrote that Maupin had to remove fencing and equipment from "our site" by May 15, 2013, the site being the far eastern portion of Maupin's land. What particularly irked Maupin was that the fencing, with privacy slats, had been torn down by contractors to build a massive concrete box to divert water from the canal through the 42 inch piping down to a canal at the bottom of the hill.

Sandy says that the box is for transporting irrigation water and to "prevent overflow and flooding to surrounding businesses."

Maupin asked the title company, Integrated Title Insurance Services, which had sent him the warranty deed on behalf of the Ogdens back in 2007, for an explanation. In a two-page letter, ITS' attorney, Chris Jessop, wrote to both Maupin and Miller that, "It appears the City has attempted to acquire property that rightfully belongs to" Maupin, "without talking to, negotiating with, nor reimbursing" him. Sandy City had gone to the prior surviving owner, Tamie Ogden, and paid her almost $15,000 for the eastern corner of Maupin's property, based on a "right of way easement" that "does not specifically describe any portion of the property."

Download: Letter from title company to Sandy City

The quit claim deed the city relied on to make its purchase, "not only clouds the title to the property," Jessop wrote, "it constitutes an illegal subdivision and appears to have been done in bad faith."

Download: Sandy docs on land seeking to acquire

In a statement to City Weekly, Sandy City's PIO Nicole Martin noted that the municipality "has no nefarious intent against Garage 94, but simply purchased property that Garage 94 did not own to advance our trail system."

Maupin was incensed. "When I bought that land, I got a loan and a loan for the whole piece of property. I'm still paying on that loan, except all of a sudden, I'm stuck paying for a piece of property that I don't own anymore according to Sandy City."

Maupin talked to Sandy City's attorney, Miller, several times on the phone. "The last time I talked to him, he told me that he'd be happy to convey me the balance of the property if I'd allow them to put the sidewalk in." Maupin said no. Miller's response, Maupin says, was that it would have to be up to a judge.

We''ll Pick Up the Bill

Scovel made several record requests, seeking purchasing documents relating to the city acquiring the property. He was told several times there were no documents. "Normally if a city purchases some property, they have to have a requisition, approval from the mayor's office," says Derek Coulter, Maupin's attorney. "When Joe got his GRAMA request back, there was no docs, just a copy of the warranty deed and a check."

In a January 2014 letter to Scovel, Sandy City recorder Molly Spira wrote that he had twice requested a "purchase contract" between Sandy City and Tamie Ogden. The first time, in April 2013, "we scoured our records and did not find any such purchase contract." Sandy wasn't denying his second request, it was "reiterating that the document you request does not exist."

City Weekly also requested documents relating to the property from Sandy City. It received a copy of an unsigned purchase agreement between Tamie Ogden and Sandy. Sandy City PIO Martin reviewed the city's responses to Scovel and to City Weekly. She says that the municipality, "makes every attempt to be responsive and thorough to GRAMA requests. If there has been some error, we apologize."

That document included an undated addendum that noted that Sandy City would "take on any and all legal actions and pay for all costs" if Maupin contested the sale through the courts.

Download: Purchase contract & denial letter

A Place Called Home

On a late Friday afternoon in early January 2015, seven people chat and smoke in the garage. They talk about a friend's tortoise whose leg was ripped off by a dog. Drawing with chalk on the garage floor, Maupin designed a replacement wheel with a shock absorber and a control arm that centers itself. The prosthetic is now at an upholsterer's, waiting for him to to finish it.

Three of the workers slide under an old Ford truck that Maupin's client Tim relies on for his tree-trimming business. "He's trying to keep this thing alive, so he can do what he needs to do," Maupin says. He looks at the truck, wondering why it won't work. "We just haven't torn enough shit apart yet," he says with a laugh.

Emily is concerned about her husband going up against Sandy City. "Robbie is the little guy," she says. "He's risking a lot." She worries the municipality will come after him, but, "I'd much rather see him stand up and fight rather than lay down," she says.

Maupin doesn't know what his chances are against a municipality with deep pockets. "I feel like I put my family in an even worse position. Me wanting to fight these guys, to put more money on this house we owe, it affects my kids in the long run. I don't know if I made the right decision to try and stand up and get it back."

Emily says the people who congregate at the garage, "look at Robbie as like, they don't like to disappoint him, they look up to him." A lot of them are the same age as him. Maybe they get the same feeling he gives to me, I can trust you, trust what you're teaching me, I care about your opinion."

Maupin watches as the men work on the truck. The shadows of the night draw in around the garage. The video feed to Rio Tinto Stadium's massive consoles, which earlier had shown footage of the team, has been long since turned off. Soon the only light remaining will be the warm, yellowy-orange glow coming from Garage 94's windows.

"My bottom line is I planned on doing this until I didn't want to work on cars anymore." Maupin says. "If my kids didn't want to continue, I wanted to sell it and have some sort of retirement. I have no 401k, I have no nothing. All I have is bills and this piece of property."

While both Maupin and the city wait on a decision from Judge Su Chon regarding Ogden's motion for a summary dismissal, Sandy City PIO Martin says the municipality appreciates that "this is his business. We know it's a personal issue to him. We hope that we can resolve it quickly and still have or at least work on a better relationship between [him] and the city."

Finally, Emily says, her husband's fight is not just about getting his land back. "He wants to be all right. He wants Tamie to admit her wrong, he wants an apology from Sandy City, and he wants things to go back to normal. We all do."

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