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WHAT TO DO WITH NEW PROVO LAND? VIEWS VARY

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Southeast Provo residents are pleased the city bought 24 acres of vacant land near the Utah County Jail, but they'd like the city to do more to make their neighborhood become a "neighborhood."

The council voted last week to purchase the land from Utah County for $800,000. The city will pay the county $400,000 this year and $400,000 next year.The county is selling surplus property to finance construction of a work-release unit at the new jail in Spanish Fork. The county needs $1.8 million to finish the work-release pod at the new jail. If the county doesn't finish the pod, the work-release unit and substance abuse department will remain at the current security center.

"There's certainly a benefit for the county to have all of its services related to prisoners in one location," Mayor George Stewart said.

The land is north of the current jail and adjacent to city-owned land near Bicentennial Park. The property surrounds three small sections of privately owned land that the city will either have to buy through negotiations or condemn.

The city plans to land bank the property and decide later how to use it. Some suggested uses are for a cemetery, fire station or police substation. The property is currently zoned for public facilities.

"Having this land will give us a lot of flexibility," Stewart said.

Neighbors feel that by having the property in city hands it is unlikely the land will ever become another jail or security-type facility. Southeast Provo residents fought hard to get the county to build the new jail outside of Provo. Currently, the jail, the Alcohol Recovery Center, Provo Youth Detention Center and Utah County Animal Shelter are in the area.

"We have a great desire to see southeast Provo improved," Spring Creek Neighborhood chairman Tim Brough said.

However, none of the city-mentioned uses for the property are what the neighbors want. The neighbors want the land used for a park or residential development.

"The neighborhood would like more neighborhood," said David Knecht, Southeast Provo neighborhood chairman.

It's doubtful the city purchased the land for residential development and the jail is the only agency planning to move out of the area. The Alcohol Recovery Center has a lease of more than 30 years on its buildings, and the state is building a new youth detention center near the current facility.

To at least guarantee a buffer zone between these facilities and the residential area to the east, the neighbors want the city to buy another 6.5 acres east of the security center for $250,000. The mayor said the city doesn't have the money to buy the additional land now but might have the funds in the next fiscal year. He is trying to persuade the county to hold the 6.5 acres for another 90 days.

If the city can't purchase the land, Knecht wants officials to consider creating a special service district that would allow neighbors to buy the property through annual tax assessments. City officials promised to research this option.

Neighbors also want the city to buy the security center and the surrounding 7.5 acres when the county vacates the building. The city is not likely to buy this property, however, because the Alcohol Recovery Center will remain on the land for another 30 years.

In another step to preserve the area, neighbors persuaded council members to declare their intent to down zone the 24 acres the city is buying and the other 14 acres the county is selling from public facilities to agricultural. This would prevent any other public agencies from building on the land or opening shop in the security center once it's vacated.

County Commissioner Jerry Grover warned council members that a down zone could hurt neighbors' concerns more than protect them. The security center might not be marketable if the land is down zoned. And if the county can't sell the building, it won't build the new work-release unit.

"It's all conditional," Grover said.

Council members told Grover they are not trying to tie the county's hands, just protect the integrity of the neighborhood. The recommendation to down zone the area now goes before the Provo Planning Commission and the city's general plan will have to be changed before the down zoning can be completed. The matter also must return to the council for final approval.