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The list of potential sites for a new state prison just got shorter.
The family of Larry H. Miller has withdrawn the property in Tooele County next to the motorsports park that bears the Miller name. The family is ending its lease on the racetrack in October as part of a company reorganization and has decided to switch gears on the land it owns nearby.
The move is a victory for Tooele County officials, area mayors and an active community group all have fought against moving the prison there since it was named to the short list in December.
"This is definitely a sigh of relief, and we feel very good about it," said County Commissioner Shawn Milne. "We are grateful for all of those who worked hard to achieve this."
Milne said he's been told the Millers want to develop the 900-acre parcel on their own, which could be anything from a mix of housing and retail to a new manufacturing plant.
"We welcome the opportunity," Milne said, "to work closely with the family to see that the land becomes an economic opportunity for the local area."
Scott Bates, president of Miller Family Real Estate, issued a statement saying: "We are encouraged by local leaders' stated goal to make this property a 'crown jewel' in their economic development efforts."
Bates worked through Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, to communicate with the commission. Sagers said family members looked at an economic analysis of their land and took into consideration public input before deciding that they would rather have homes or businesses on the property.
"They always look at community interest," Sagers said, "and they looked at that here."
The land is located at what Milne calls the "nexus" of the county, where Tooele City, Grantsville and Stansbury Park converge. There's a nearby community center that includes a swimming pool, baseball diamonds and soccer fields.
Residents who organized a No Prison in Tooele County group hated the idea of children seeing a prison off in the distance. Another complaint is that the large county has little water, and that turned out to be a major sticking point.
The Prison Relocation Commission, the group of state lawmakers assigned to recommend a site, previously told the Millers it was finding it difficult to solve the water issue quickly. The commission has until Aug. 1 to recommend a location to the Legislature, which would then take a vote. The state wants to break ground on a new 4,000-bed penitentiary in the next year.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, a commission co-chairman, said the state won't press the Miller family to reconsider.
"We are a willing buyer looking for a willing seller," he said. "If they decide they don't want to sell, then we are certainly not going to push the point."
The commission is still looking at one Tooele County site, next to the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Grantsville, and that will be the subject of a public information meeting Thursday. That meeting is taking place at Grantsville High. An open house begins at 4 p.m. and a question-and-answer session begins at 7 p.m.
A rally against moving the prison to Tooele County is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. at the Grantsville City Park.
Jewel Allen, an organizer with the No Prison group, said she was "ecstatic" at the Millers' decision.
"It says a lot to us, as a community, that they are watching for more than their bottom line," she said, noting her group would continue to oppose the remaining Tooele County site.
The other parcels under consideration are west of the Salt Lake City International Airport, at the southern end of Eagle Mountain or just outside of the small town of Fairfield.
The commission will hold a public meeting on the northern Utah County sites Eagle Mountain and Fairfield on June 2.
At this point, Stevenson said the commission is not favoring any of four remaining sites. He's waiting for the completion of a technical review of each property.
The Millers are the latest property owner to withdraw land from consideration for the new prison. Sites in West Jordan and Saratoga Springs were previously dropped when owners decided they no longer wanted their land to house a penitentiary.