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Bountiful's role in proposed auto mall raises residents' concerns

BOUNTIFUL -- Bountiful's quiet assembly of land for a new auto mall has aroused the suspicion of some residents.

However, city officials say they are only doing what they must to keep Centerville or some other city from getting its mitts on Bountiful's $400,000 a year in auto sales tax revenue.When all but one of Bountiful's Ford dealers decided last fall to consolidate at one location as the Ford Auto Collection, they spoke with Bountiful and Centerville officials about possible sites.

According to a letter signed by 16 Bountiful residents who live near the site of a proposed auto mall north of Ken Garff Bountiful Motors at 2773 S. Main, the city has bought several pieces of land, has burned down a house it purchased and is planning to close a street. They say all this is happening without notifying neighbors.

The alleged purpose of these activities is to accommodate the "powerful" owners of a proposed auto mall to be called the Ford Auto Collection, says the June 5 letter. Copies have been sent to various media.

Bountiful has spent more than $700,000 for a little more than an acre to be sold to the Ford Auto Collection and may buy additional land, said Tom Hardy, city manager. No date has been set for finalizing a deal with the project's owners.

The city is not required to advertise that it is buying land. To have done so could have driven up the price.

Hardy said the project is vital to Bountiful's finances. The Bountiful dealerships, which will be combined in the Ford Auto Collection, generate $400,000 a year in sales taxes for the city. Once the Auto Collection facility is completed in two to three years it will be the city's single most important source of sales tax, Hardy said.

Although Hardy has been answering questions from concerned residents, he is reluctant to go into detail about the project. It is not a done deal and other cities are competing for the auto mall, he said.

The city manager did concede that it might have been a good idea to notify neighbors the city planned to burn a house at 2832 S. 625 West as a training exercise for firefighters. In the few instances when it has burned structures in the past, the city has not given notice because the decision to burn is governed by the weather, Hardy said.

If a proposal is made to close part of 625 West and build a new street from 625 West along the existing Garff property to U.S. 89, however, the Utah Department of Transportation will have to be involved and there will be public hearings, Hardy said.

The residents' letter specifically mentions Robert Garff, who owns a minority interest in the proposed mall and is chairman of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

"It was really unfair to single out Mr. Garff," Hardy said.

Garff said he is not involved in the day to day running of the business and only called Hardy once about six months ago to ask him how the city was doing with its end of the project and to tell him Centerville was also interested in getting the Auto Collection.

Centerville wanted the Auto Collection for a 12-acre parcel at Parrish Road and I-15, Mayor Frank Hirschi said. The city has since found itself stymied in making a development deal for the parcel. But Hirschi said the 12 acres are still available.