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Good fences may make good neighbors, but a recently erected construction barrier at American Preparatory Academy is adding to simmering tensions between the Draper charter school and nearby residents.
Last Wednesday, homeowners Josh and Emily Aune hung a banner on their fence promoting ShameOnAPA.org, a website critical of American Preparatory Academy's construction of a second campus on its Draper property.
Their home is located next to the mouth of the school's driveway on Lone Peak Parkway, putting the banner in full view of families dropping off and picking up their children.
On Monday, a backhoe was parked in front of the banner, Josh Aune said, and by Tuesday, a roughly 10-foot-tall opaque fence had been installed along the back side of Aune's property.
"We're a couple thousand feet away from the actual construction," Aune said on Wednesday. "Either their construction team is incompetent, or they have ulterior motives."
Aune said the school gave no notice that the fence would be erected. He suspects it was installed to keep American Preparatory Academy parents from learning about the ongoing frustrations between the charter schools and its residential neighbors.
"In my opinion, it's a spite fence," Aune said. "It's a distorted use of taxpayer dollars."
Since 2015, American Preparatory Academy has been involved in a property dispute over a narrow strip of private land that blocks access to the school from a nearby roadway at 11950 South.
The school is landlocked, relying on an easement to reach Lone Peak Parkway, and recently purchased an adjacent home in order to use its driveway as an emergency construction access while it builds a new high school.
But residents in Draper's Inauguration Park neighborhood say the school's limited vehicle access creates severe congestion on Lone Peak Parkway. And some parents reportedly attempt to bypass the traffic by dropping their children off in the neighborhood and encouraging their children to cross through private property to reach the school.
Brad Findlay, chairman of American Preparatory Academy's governing board, said many neighbors have requested that fencing be installed to discourage trespassing.
"Not every neighbor feels the same way," Findlay said. "We have some neighbors who want us to put up fences."
But the opaque barrier installed by the school does not include areas where students routinely wallk.
Findlay said the school intends to use the fence to promote its own banners, encouraging enrollment for the fall opening of the new high school. But he acknowledged that the ShameOnAPA.org sign played a part in the placement of fencing, describing the sign as "offensive" and saying the school hoped to mitigate the bad message and protect children. .
"We have first and second and third graders coming to school every day," Findlay said. "That sign isn't really cool for little kids.
"We are pretty sure that we have a right to put up a fence on our own property," Findlay said.
Findlay added that school administrators were unaware the fence had been erected. After they learned of the neighbors' concerns, he said, a shorter 6-foot-fence was installed in its place.
On the school's south side, litigation is ongoing over the narrow strip of private property that blocks traffic from reaching 11950 South. Utah Charter Academies, the school's unelected governing board, attempted to condemn the land using eminent domain, but a 3rd District Court judge ruled that Utah Charter Academies does not qualify as a board of education under Utah's eminent domain law.
Utah Charter Academies then requested that state charter school board members use eminent domain to allow vehicle access, but the board demurred, voting to delay consideration of eminent domain until questions in the schools' lawsuit could be resolved.
There is also some disagreement in state government on whether the state charter school board, a subsidiary panel to the Utah Board of Education appointed by the governor, has the power to condemn private property.
Asked for clarification, the governor's office said the question of eminent domain is best directed to the Utah Board of Education, since it directly oversees the state charter school board.
"Ultimately this is a matter for the courts to decide," said Kirsten Rappleye, a spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.