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UTA board gives final approval to Clearfield deal, but not before amending terms

FILE - UTA Board of Trustees member Charles Henderson takes a photo of a site being developed outside the Clearfield Frontrunner Station on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.
FILE - UTA Board of Trustees member Charles Henderson takes a photo of a site being developed outside the Clearfield Frontrunner Station on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.
Alex Goodlett, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority gave final approval Wednesday to selling land near the Clearfield FrontRunner station for a rail assembly plant, but not before amending the terms of the deal.

The 7-4 vote came despite no set price yet for the transaction with Clearfield or details of the latest appraisal for the just over 28 acres the city hopes to turn over to Swiss-owned Stadler Rail for the proposed plant.

What was added to the deal, which will be finalized by UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson, was a requirement that Clearfield agree to protect the zoning for other undeveloped parcels on the site still owned by the agency.

Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd told the board he couldn't commit the city to zoning for the remaining land because there's been no application filed for how it would be used.

But three trustees — two current and one former mayor — said there should be a way to ensure those parcels could be sold to developers for high-density housing or other projects that would benefit the transit stop.

"I think Clearfield's got to do something here. I'm not willing to sign off with a hope and promise," said Greg Bell, a former lieutenant governor who served as mayor of Fruit Heights. "I just don't trust cities."

Bell, who proposed the change made to the deal, said if he were a developer, he would be getting an agreement spelling out zoning specifics. "It would be contractual, not political."

Another trustee, Draper Mayor Troy Walker, agreed and said the remaining parcels must be zoned to accommodate bigger buildings that will bring more residents to the station.

North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor, also a trustee, raised concerns about zoning as well as other issues. Taylor said the best time to get assurances from the city is before the deal is done, not after.

Taylor questioned the summary of the preliminary report from the third appraiser of the property, circulated for the first time during the meeting. It showed the land was valued at nearly $4.6 million.

An appraisal done for Clearfield valued the land at $1.8 million compared to more than $4.9 million in an earlier appraisal done for UTA. But the latest appraisal put infrastructure costs at $680,000, nearly double what Clearfield estimated.

Taylor said the board was giving its authority to UTA executives by approving the sale before more details were known, including the sale price, and cited past legislative audits that criticized the board's "inadequate oversight."

But a trustee who voted against the changed deal, Davis County Commissioner Bret Millburn, said accepting what he called a "willing and open partnership" with Clearfield was a chance to "walk the talk" with communities UTA serves.

After the vote, which had to be retaken because of a procedural issue, the Clearfield mayor told a reporter coming up with a way to guarantee there would be high-density zoning for the remaining parcels "could open us up to a lot of liability."

Shepherd said the change to the deal presents a difficult challenge, especially since Stadler wants to begin construction on the new plant as soon as possible and is still considering other sites in Salt Lake City, West Jordan, Layton and Ogden.

"We're going to have to figure out a way," he said, adding he hopes the sale can be completed within 30 days.

Not part of Wednesday's discussion were concerns about a former UTA board member's ties to the project. Sheldon Killpack is an owner of One West Construction, a company hired by Stadler Rail to do pre-construction work on the plant.

Killpack served on the board for less than a year in 2015, leaving after participating in a trip to Switzerland that year to meet with representatives of Stadler Rail. He also was invited to bid on a hotel project near a rail stop.

International travel, real estate development and board ethics are all believed to be part of an ongoing federal investigation into UTA's transit development projects made public earlier this year.

UTA has signed a nonprosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office and is required to cooperate with the investigation and submit to up to three years of federal monitoring.