PAYSON — Missile strikes in Iraq had a residual impact in Payson Wednesday night — an abrupt end to what was turning into a heated City Council meeting.
As the council and a crowd of 200 city residents — who had moved the meeting from the cramped City Hall to a more accommodating banquet hall — were warming to the debate over city plans for a new recreation complex to replace the city's 100-year-old horse racing track, when news came of the U.S. missile strikes on Baghdad. The council quickly voted to cut short the meeting and rescheduled it for March 27.
Mayor Bernell Evans said the decision was prompted by the fact that many at the meeting have relatives in the military who are in the Middle East and officials felt discussion of local issues could wait.
The controversial recreation center plan calls for replacing the race track with a swimming pool complex and several softball diamonds. The new complex also includes a controversial plan to extend 800 South through the area.
About 50 supporters from a group that wants the city to delay construction and put the issue on the November ballot gathered in front of City Hall at 5 p.m. in formal protest — complete with signs. An hour later, a group of teens who support the city plan, arrived, some wearing baseball uniforms and others sporting Youth City Council apparel.
Each stayed in his own group and caused no disturbances, said Police Chief Dee Rowland.
By the time the City Council meeting started it was clear supporters of the council's August decision to build the recreation center — which came on a 3-2 vote — were in the majority.
Councilwoman Jan Tanner invited those attending to a groundbreaking set for April 19 at 10 a.m. The three council members who voted for the project, Tanner, Colleen Jacobson and Max Roberts, will sponsor the event, not the city, Tanner said. The event will include keynote speakers, games and prizes.
Tanner specifically asked residents who feel polarized by the controversy to attend.
"We want to party," she said.
Ed Lazenby, a horseman who won his first race at the track some 50 years ago, said he sees the groundbreaking event more as a going-away party for horse enthusiasts.
The center plan includes a small temporary track — about a third the size of the present track — along with about 100 stalls the city's racing and riding clubs have built over the years. Trainers say the new track will be too small and they will be forced out.
Payson's population has exploded in recent years, bringing a dramatic shift in demographics. About 6,000 of the city's nearly 15,000 population are under the age of 15, noted Jim Griffin, a high school teacher and former city councilman. Most of them want to swim and play ball, not race horses, he said.
Other elements of the reconfiguration include construction of a roundabout at the junction with Main Street. The plan may force the city to abandon a portion of 700 South to better align the extension with an existing traffic light. Some of those opposed say the plan could hurt store owners as the road extension, which will connect I-15 with Main Street, will bypass the business district.