Appeals Court ruling could slow construction of Kensington Tower, Utah’s future tallest building, now known by a new name

A lawsuit filed by the owner of a neighboring property could slow construction of what should become Utah’s tallest building after a state appeals court ruling on Thursday.

The neighboring property owner claimed visitors and employees to its buildings used three separate routes through what used to be a fast-food restaurant’s parking lot to reach four parking spaces behind the buildings. (Visitors had no other way but to cross someone else’s property to reach the spaces.)

The court ruled that it is possible there are three separate easements on the land where Kensington Tower — now known as Astra Tower — is set to be built starting this summer. 

And while the lawsuit likely won’t endanger the eventual construction of Astra Tower, it complicates and likely delays the 39-story high-end apartment building at 200 South State Street.

“This issue remains fluid as our attorneys are preparing a response,” a representative for the developer told us. “It is premature to determine what if any schedule impacts might occur. If there are any adjustments to the schedule, we expect they would be in the short rather than long term.”

The appeals court ruling keeps active a suit filed in November 2019 seeking to block or alter construction that was set to begin now.

The owner of the neighboring buildings, which contain Pawn Brokers Exchange and Jeanie’s Smoke Shop, said employees and customers had for years accessed the back of the buildings through the parking lot and drive-thru of the now-demolished Carl’s Jr burger joint.

MNV Holdings has owned one property since 1995 and bought the other in 2018, the same year we broke the news that Boston-based developers would push the limits of Salt Lake City’s skyline with what was then called the Kensington Tower.

Because of the layout of the buildings, rear parking can be accessed only by crossing someone else’s property either from 200 South, State Street or Plum Alley.

MNV initially filed suit in November 2019, seeking what is known under Utah law as a prescriptive easement over the property and asking for title over the easement due to its claimed history of usage.

Astra developers had initially won on summary judgment, but the appeals court reversed the decision and sent it back for further proceedings, saying the lower court ruling relied on irrelevant case law.

The appeals court said it’s possible MNV meets the requirements to prove it has used three separate easements across the Astra property for more than 20 years — the time specified by Utah law over prescriptive easements. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the project, or that Astra’s property is carved up by three easements.

“The court may, as a matter of equity, choose to designate only one of the proven routes as the defined prescriptive easement,” the court wrote. Or it could “redefine the path to avoid unduly burdening the servient estate.” 

Another likely option is the two parties settle out of court and construction resumes. Only time will tell.

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.