This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
By a 7-4 vote, the Utah Transit Authority board gave its final approval Wednesday to sell land for a controversial land development at its Clearfield FrontRunner Station that involves several players from past scandals.
It did so without a final price in hand and without firm agreements on several details of the deal. The board delegated such specifics to UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson, who now has power to make the final sale.
The approval came as Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd said that without a quick OK by UTA, Clearfield could lose a rail-car assembly plant now planned on the site by Swiss manufacturer Stadler Rail and the 1,000 jobs it could bring.
Stadler just won some contracts for rail cars in California "and they have to start building trains," Shepherd said. "They are under the gun like they have never been before" and "are going to start looking at other sites just in case this doesn't happen."
So, the UTA board declared 37 acres as surplus out of 70 it owns around the station. That allows Clearfield to buy it and resell it at a discount to Stadler.
Until Stadler entered the picture, UTA aimed to build a "transit oriented development" there with retail, offices and apartments to increase ridership. It was part of plans to handle population growth through a string of town centers at rail stations where development would move skyward instead of sprawling outward.
Steps leading to the deal involved players from several past UTA scandals.
For example, several UTA board members and former board Chairman Greg Hughes now speaker of the Utah House created controversy by traveling to Switzerland and Stadler headquarters in 2015.
That visit forced UTA to discard bids at the time by Stadler and others seeking to lease a portion of a UTA maintenance facility because of the appearance of favoritism.
Several UTA board members resigned in the wake of the trip and controversy it stirred. One of them, former Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, is the contractor who Stadler wants to build its new plant.
Also, UTA earlier this year gave away a parcel at the station, valued at $1.5 million, to its former partner there Thackeray Garn Co. essentially to walk away from the rest of the site to clear the way for the Stadler proposal. UTA said it tried to cut ties with that firm because it had invited UTA board members to invest in some projects. Former House Majority Leader Kevin Garn is a partner in Thackeray Garn.
UTA Board member Brent Taylor, who is also mayor of North Ogden, blasted the final vote Wednesday as premature.
"Here we are again about to approve a contract with massive pieces of information missing," including the price and other terms about zoning on other UTA land there. "I just can't believe it," he said, noting state audits previously criticized UTA for similar actions.
He complained the board was given, during its meeting, a preliminary summary of an appraisal that is not binding valuing the land at $3.87 million. An earlier UTA appraisal said it was worth $4.93 million, while Clearfield said it was worth $1.47 million.
"We have no ability to review what is the information behind this," Taylor said.
"I feel like we are transferring our responsibility for oversight to the executive, which is not right," he said.
On top of that, "To be able to do this, we gave away a piece of property [to Thackeray Garn] that had tremendous value," he said, calling it "a major loss to taxpayers." He urged moving slower and resolving all issues before approval.
Sherrie Hall Everett, vice-chairwoman of the board, said it has given robust review to the proposal for months, and the board has set general parameters of what the final sale must include and is leaving it to administrators to finish. She said the board also clearly supports the sale to Stadler to attract jobs.
A few board members opposed the final resolution not because it did not do enough to resolve some issues, but because it may require too much of Clearfield.
Board member Greg Bell, former lieutenant governor, amended the resolution to require for a sale some nonrescindable assurances or zoning from Clearfield to require high-rise, high-density development on other portions of the site. Clearfield has favored such development but said its procedures cannot offer such assurances.
Board members P. Bret Millburn, a Davis County commissioner, and Necia Christensen worried that requirement could threaten the Stadler deal, so they opposed it.
The board last month issued a preliminary green light for the deal, but had asked UTA administrators to work out several details before proceeding to a final sale including obtaining a new appraisal.
UTA then worked out a memorandum of understanding with Clearfield on many issues, including a promise that the city's redevelopment agency would spend $13.8 million to build a 700-stall parking garage there. But Taylor complained the promise as written is nonbinding and subject to availability of funds.
UTA meetings now online
The Utah Transit Authority began livestreaming its meetings Wednesday and making recordings of them available online.
Board Chairman Robert McKinley said the agency spent a year looking at and testing different systems to allow the move.
"Livestreaming allows everyone to see the decision-making process in real time and shows that we, as a board, are committed to increasing public engagement and transparency for the project," said board co-chairwoman Sherrie Hall Everett.
Videos are available at rideuta.com/board. It is also available on UTA's YouTube page.