Offered a last-minute alternative, the Fruit Heights City Council decided this week to negotiate further before selecting a site for the city's new municipal building.
More than 50 city residents crowded into the cramped council chambers in the Rock Loft building for a public meeting to discuss where the new 4,000-square-foot, $235,000 building will be located.Most seemed opposed to the council's choice, a flat patch of ground in Nicholls Park.
And an offer by a longtime resident to trade property he planned to acquire in the city's commercial area was withdrawn and then replaced with a new offer on property the council previously thought was not available.
The result after more than an hour of explanation and discussion was a decision by the council to reconsider its siting decision and to hold another public meeting.
The city has saved money over the past decade to avoid bonding or raising taxes to build the new structure, Mayor Blaine Nelson told the crowd, which sat in chairs, on desks and even on the floor in two tiny rooms in the city offices.
The goal was to "write a check for the whole building, without having to incur any more debt," the mayor said. Putting the building on the park site would allow that, he added.
The council first looked at buying the Rock Loft building where the city has leased office space for several years. An offer of $150,000 was made for the 10,000-square foot, two-story cherry cannery, which sits on 3.7 acres on Mountain Road.
But the offer was turned down, Nelson said, so other alternatives were examined. He also said an engineer estimates it would cost up to $650,000 to renovate the building.
The city owns 1.2 acres of property on Mountain Road south of the Rock Loft, and Nelson said councils over the years have looked at it as a potential site. But the parcel is too small for a municipal building and parking, he said.
And the council didn't want to get into a condemnation proceeding to acquire an adjacent 1.3 acres, the mayor said, so the third option is to put the building in Nicholls Park.
Two weeks ago, Fruit Heights resident Bob Runnells approached the council with a new plan. He proposed to buy a parcel of land on 1250 East in the city's commercial area and trade it to the city for the 1.2 acres on Mountain Road.
Runnells, who lives near Nicholls Road, opposes putting the complex in the park. Traffic is already congested on Nicholls Road because of the park and the adjacent county golf course, Runnells said.
Putting the city offices there will worsen the traffic problem and park land should be preserved, not built on, he said. Runnells estimated the land trade offer could cost him up to $20,000.
But at Tuesday night's meeting, Runnells withdrew that offer and made a new proposal.
He has purchased the 1.3 acres adjacent to the land the city owns on Mountain Road, that the council didn't think was available and doesn't want to have to exercise its power of eminent domain to acquire.
Runnells told the council he's willing to negotiate with the city but stopped short of saying he will donate the 1.3 acres outright. He submitted a written statement saying he pledges to "work diligently with the city to remove as many obstacles as possible in an effort to make the city-owned property suitable for construction of the building.
"This pledge should not be construed as a commitment to finance preparation or rearrangement of the land. We will, however, be sensitive to costs to the city," Runnells said.
Nelson said the city is operating under some time constraints. A review of the city offices by the state's court commission shows they do not meet the new minimum requirements to house a justice court.
The city could lose its justice court, and the revenue it produces, if a new facility isn't available by next year, the mayor said.
Nelson said the 4,000-square-foot building designed for the city should be adequate for the future, with no expansion required. It should accommodate the city's projected population of 8,000 to 10,000 residents, Nelson said.