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Utah State Prison move gets a boost from House committee

Published: Monday, Feb. 24 2014 1:20 p.m. MST

The Utah State Prison, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) The Utah State Prison, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The years-long push to move the Utah State Prison from Draper got a boost Monday from a House committee, which unanimously backed a resolution calling for relocating the aging facility.

The sponsor of HCR8, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told members of the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee that the resolution was just the start of a long process.

What lawmakers will eventually have to decide, Wilson said, is where a new prison would be built and what will happen to the nearly 700-acre site at Point of the Mountain seen as prime property for development.

Draper Mayor Troy Walker passed out to the committee copies of what he called "visionary" renderings of possible development on the site commissioned by the city, calling the move "nothing but a positive economic gain to all of us involved."

Utah State Prison cells, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah State Prison cells, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Wilson, however, said while he appreciated the enthusiasm of Draper officials, their efforts to focus on developing the current prison site are "premature" because it will be "a number of years" before those decisions are made.

Instead of development, Wilson emphasized the need for a new, modern prison rather than continuing to invest in one he described as falling apart to accommodate growth in the number of inmates in the coming years.

HCR8, he noted, spells out that planning for a new prison must include studying the state's corrections system to ease recidivism and incarceration rates, as well as looking at sites near prison employees, volunteers, medical facilities and the courts.

The resolution also calls for a new prison location "to be compatible with surrounding land uses for the foreseeable future." Wilson told the committee the state should never have to talk about moving the new prison because of urban encroachment.

The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake Count, Friday, March 8, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The Utah State Prison and surrounding area in Salt Lake Count, Friday, March 8, 2013. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

No sites for a new prison have been publicly identified, but Lane Summerhays, the chairman of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority, has said the owners of four pieces of property have approached the state.

Three of those four sites are in Salt Lake County and one is in Utah County, Summerhays said earlier this month. One of the Salt Lake County sites is reportedly near the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Wilson, a member of the authority, distributed a breakdown of the cost of a new prison prepared by the group's Texas-based consultant that showed the new site is expected to cost $20 million while the Draper property is valued at $130 million.

The vote to favorably recommend the resolution may have been unanimous, but several committee members raised concerns about the impact of the move.

Utah State Prison in Draper on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014.  (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah State Prison in Draper on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, said he's worried development will increase the "traffic nightmare" at Point of the Mountain and called for planning to deal with additional congestion.

For Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, the issue is the effect on schools and other public services. Bird said there has not been enough discussion about what will happen when the development attracts new residents to the area.

The Draper mayor assured the committee the city will plan for development.

"This will probably take decades to build out," Walker said of the city's renderings, which show high-rise residential and commercial development along with some green space.

Renderings show what Draper City is hoping the south end of Salt Lake County might look like in the future with the possible development on the site of the Utah State Prison.  (Draper City) Renderings show what Draper City is hoping the south end of Salt Lake County might look like in the future with the possible development on the site of the Utah State Prison. (Draper City)

No one spoke in opposition to the resolution.

The head of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah, Maryann Martindale, spoke in favor of the resolution after opposing the move last year, but she said there's a lot of work to do to convince the public it's a good idea.

Utahns still see relocating the prison as "a boondoggle for developers," Martindale said, advising the committee that supporters of the move are going to "have to work very earnestly to earn the public’s trust in this."

HCR9, which would require the signature of the governor, now goes to the full House for consideration. Wilson is also sponsoring HJR19, a similar resolution that would not need Gov. Gary Herbert's support.

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