BY REBECCA PALMER
BOUNTIFUL — Bountiful City is just a few votes away from taking land owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to build a road for a future development.
The issue came to a head during Tuesday night’s council meeting. More than 100 neighbors showed up in opposition, but developer Gary Wright was absent.
After about 90 minutes of angry discussion with the crowd and staffers, the council voted 3-1 to table the issue for further study.
The land in question is located at about 550 North and 400 East in the right field corner of a softball diamond, which is owned by the church. Nearby is a wardhouse and former stake center at 720 E. 550 North. It is part of the Bountiful Heights Stake.
City planners want .45 acres to build a road, which would connect the planned Villas at Stone Creek subdivision to 600 East from Stone Creek Lane, which now dead-ends at the softball field.
Local leaders of the LDS Church, including Dan Lake, first counselor in the stake presidency, declined the city’s offer of $99,700 to purchase the land.
For years, the land has been hilly and weedy, but the church hopes to expand the field eventually. Due to a water tank in far center field, however, the field will never be regulation length.
“It’s our feeling that the road is going to impact the softball field,” Lake told the council. “It’s going to shorten right field.”
The church’s real estate team was also on hand to object to the use of eminent domain.
“We’re somewhat puzzled by the city’s motivation in taking this property,” said Bill Meaders, of the law firm Kirton & McConkie, pointing out that if the developer were not allowed to build so many homes, the road wouldn’t be necessary. “This looks like the need of a private developer rather than a public need.”
The crowd cheered Meaders on, but booed and shouted “No” and “That’s a lie” when city staff and elected officials spoke.
The city council seemed puzzled at the outrage. The plan to build a road on the unused portion of church property has been in the works for at least a year. Since the spring of 2012, the planning commission has met several times and given project plans approval on multiple occasions. However, each approval was conditioned upon this road being built.
No one spoke in favor of the road at the meeting, but the mayor and council said people had called them in support.
The multiple approvals from the planning commission came because the plans have changed several times since their inception. Most recently, Wright’s company purchased additional lots and added homes to its plan, making the total for the subdivision 29. According to fire code, a subdivision that big requires two public safety access points, thereby necessitating the road. Another option the city has considered is buying or using eminent domain against existing homes to build a road, but that option is similarly unpopular.
Alternatively, the city might be able to build a small access road with a locked gate, neighbors suggested.
The city council’s vote to table the issue will allow staffers to look into these options.
“I think everyone can agree that the city made some questionable decisions regarding this development,” said Mike Lamb, who organized the opposition by sending a letter to all his neighbors. “Now to assist the developer and solve its bad planning, the city wants to condemn ... Does the city council really want to vote against church and family?”
After the vote, Bountiful Mayor Joe Johnson said the argument that the city should allow fewer homes in the project was a bad one, because the developer also has property rights and should be allowed to do what he wants.
“I don’t like the idea that we tell developers what to do,” he said.
The neighborhood’s confusion about city plans was caused by assumptions on the part of both the city and the church, Johnson believes. The city thought the church would sell, and the church thought the city would not condemn, he said.
City councilman John Marc Knight was the only councilmember to vote against tabling the issue.
“I don’t believe in kicking the can down the road,” he said afterward. “If you’re for it, stand up and show your colors Й We cheated people from seeing their mayor and council. How’s that in the public trust?”
City councilwoman Beth Holbrook, who sits on the planning commission, was not at Tuesday’s meeting. Wednesday, she declined to comment on the issue because she had not reviewed her notes, she said.
Wright did not immediately return calls about the controversy.
If the city moves forward with using its powers of eminent domain, it would have to sue the church.