DRAPER City leaders and Salt Lake County Council members passed resolutions Tuesday asking the state to consider moving the 57-year-old state prison to make way for higher education facilities and commercial and residential development.
The county resolution passed 4-3, though council members largely agreed that the move wasn't likely to happen for years.
The city approved the resolution unanimously after changing the wording of one paragraph.
"This is a bold step for the city to take with the resolution, but I think its an appropriate step," said Draper Mayor Darrell Smith. "This creates healthy use of new ideas and shows the state that we're out there with that kind of vision ourselves."
"To me it's a little premature," Salt Lake Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said, a Democrat on the losing end of the vote. "I'm not wiling to lock in ... for something in my mind that won't happen for 25 years."
Smith said he could see the move occurring within five to 10 years.
Councilman Jeff Allen said the county needs to take the lead on the issue.
The more people talk about moving the prison, the faster property values in the area will continue to rise, Allen said.
"This is something that is regionally significant," Allen said. "It would be an enormous benefit to the health, welfare and public safety of generations to come. I would like to get that ball rolling."
The resolutions come just 27 months after a $140,000 study commissioned by the state found moving the facility would cost far too much.
However, the land may have appreciated considerably in the two-plus years since the study, said Draper spokeswoman Maridene Hancock. Residential development in the area has increased, and commercial development, including the opening of furniture-giant Ikea west of I-15, has exploded.
Moving the prison has been a hot topic for years. In fact, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. discussed the issue in his gubernatorial campaign in 2004. The governor still contends that the prison will have to be moved eventually but said when the 2005 study was released that the issue may warrant another study in 15 years.
The Utah Department of Corrections, which runs the prison, hasn't taken a position on the resolutions passed Tuesday, said spokeswoman Angie Welling. However, if moving the prison were someday found to be economically feasible, the department would support the move.
Salt Lake County Councilman Jeff Allen, who pushed for both resolutions, said it's time for a community other than Draper to bear the burden of housing the state's worst criminals.
"The burden should be shared as much statewide as possible," he said. "The south end of the valley, including Bluffdale and West Jordan, have carried the burden for past 57 years. They've carried that burden well."
Draper Council member Jeff Stenquist said the city isn't trying to unload the prison on another community but feels that the prison could better serve a community with fewer economic opportunities.
Salt Lake City-based Realtor Tom Cook, of Commerce CRG, agrees that the land may have grown more valuable. Depending on the zoning and amount of commercial space, the 673 acres the prison sits on could be worth $4-$5 per square foot, he said. The 2005 study found the land to be worth $2.50 per square foot.
Cook is currently working with a client developing land immediately adjacent to the prison site and said that land, zoned for commercial use, is priced in the double digits per square foot.
However, Draper could have trouble brining in additional commercial developments unless additional housing is built, Cook said. Housing built on prison land would increase the area's population and make big-box retail more feasible, he added.
"That's very valuable land," he said. "It's pretty expensive dirt to be housing prisoners, and that ground isn't going to get any cheaper. . . . It's not economically feasible for a prison to be there."
Draper Council members agreed unanimously that the land was very valuable. Council member Bill Colbert said he thinks the 2005 study was seriously flawed and that the issue deserves a fresh look.
The Draper and county resolutions contain clauses that suggest the site could be used for state university facilities or research-based centers. The resolutions also mention the possibility of mixed-use development and recommend a commuter rail line be planned to stop in the area. A sentence recommending using 100 acres of the land, perhaps for a state sports complex, was added to the Draper city resolution at the last minute.
A light-rail line to end at the point of the mountain where the prison sits is already planned.
"This is just a recommendation. This is us expressing our opinion," Stenquist said during discussion about the resolution.
Allen said he hasn't talked with legislators or state officials about the proposal but hopes the resolutions will get the ball rolling on talks."The whole idea is to prompt discussion we've got needs, they're busting at the seams. This brings all of those interested parties together to start contemplating."
Contributing: Leigh Dethman