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Clearfield • Commenters at a public hearing Wednesday favored, with some dissension, the Utah Transit Authority proceeding with a controversial development at its Clearfield FrontRunner station involving several players from past scandals.
Clearfield seeks to buy UTA land there to resell it, at a discount, to Stadler Rail to allow it to build a rail-car assembly plant.
It largely would replace previous UTA efforts to build a "transit oriented development" on 70 acres there with retail, offices and apartments to increase ridership. It has been part of regional plans to handle rapid population growth through a string of town centers at rail stations where development would move skyward instead of sprawling outward.
About 30 residents attended a hearing on the proposal, and another 40 sent statements. Most comments favored the proposal for a rail-car plant because it would create 400 jobs initially, and up to 1,000 in 10 years.
"They cannot seem to get anything else to work, and the place is an eyesore," resident Roger Montgomery said in one of the comments provided online.
Jared Healy, another online commenter, said, "It would inject some life back into the city."
But Cari Weigman, another online commenter who was among a handful who opposed the project, warned, "The public will perceive it as a conflict of interest and dirty dealing" because of involvement by some actors in past UTA scandals.
For example, several UTA board members and former board Chairman Greg Hughes created controversy by traveling to Switzerland and Stadler headquarters in 2015. Hughes is now speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.
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. Stadler later won the lease anyway, after a rebidding process.
Several UTA board members resigned amid controversy caused by that trip. One of them, Sheldon Killpack, is the contractor who Stadler now 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, which cleared the way for the Stadler proposal. UTA said it tried to cut ties with that firm because it disliked some of its dealings with former UTA board members.
"The public still perceives UTA as corrupt, scandalous liars that don't perceive public support," Weigman said. "Transparency and the public's support is more important" than approving the Stadler plans.
But Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd said Stadler "is a major industry [player] that will bring benefits up and down the Wasatch Front" by creating jobs and buying supplies from other local industries. He added that it offers the only proposal right now that will help the city. "It brings a beautiful building to Clearfield. It brings people here."
Former Mayor Don Wood added that the Stadler proposal creates a "better opportunity to Clearfield residents to make a living wage [and] raise their standard of living."
But Clearfield City Council member Vern Phipps sent online comment, saying, "City elected officials are not unanimous on this," and "I'm strongly supportive of this land remaining a TOD [transit-oriented development]."
Agreeing was Jennifer Wennergren, another online commenter. "Creating more housing and bringing people into the community is what Clearfield needs. They do not need another business where people leave at the end of the day and live somewhere else."
Most commenters supported the Stadler proposal. P. Bret Millburn, a Davis County commissioner who also is a UTA board member, called approving the development a "no-brainer," saying the jobs it would create would help the area more than traditional transit-oriented developments.
Amy Archibald, another online commenter, said, "Clearfield City needs more companies to provide jobs to area residents and to fortify our local economy."
The full UTA board is expected to vote on giving conditional approval to proceed with the sale for Stadler at its May 20 meeting.