Utah State Prison list down to four, West Jordan out of the running

Utah Land

It’s highly unlikely that a wheat farm in West Jordan will sprout a new state prison after the property owners decided Monday they no longer were interested in selling.

An estimated 2,000 or so people, packed tightly into the gym at Oakcrest Elementary School, leapt to their feet and applauded when Mayor Kim Rolfe broke the news during a town hall meeting meant to show just how much this city of 110,000 opposes locating a new prison within its boundaries.

While calling the announcement welcome and exciting, state Rep.-elect Kim Coleman said she won’t consider the fight over until the Prison Relocation Commission officially removes the site from its list of six finalists.

“My position is that it is not over until it is over. We will not rest until we are completely off the list for consideration,” she said after the meeting, which included speeches from other state lawmakers, a representative from Gov. Gary Herbert’s office and leaders of a grass-roots group.

The commission meets Dec. 22, when it may trim that list.

The West Jordan land, near Utah 111 and 9000 South, has been in the Jones family for 70 years. Brothers Merlin and LaMar bought it with their father, and it’s been a dry wheat farm ever since.

LaMar Jones and his wife, Vicky, moved to Oregon 40 years ago, while Merlin Jones, who did not respond to a request for comment Monday night, continues to live in West Jordan.

Vicky Jones confirmed Monday that the brothers decided to back out of the prison-relocation process because of the public outcry. They have no current plan to sell the property, which they lease out to a farmer.

“We have held on to it for 70 years,” she said Monday. “I guess we’ll just have to hold on to it.”

It was unlikely that the prison would move to West Jordan in any case, since the city and state are negotiating a potential business relocation on land close to the potential prison site. The commission accepted new criteria focused on economic-development interests and potential population patterns. Also on Monday, Boeing, a company with property in the same area, announced its opposition to becoming a neighbor to a new 4,000-bed correctional facility.

State Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, co-chairman of the Prison Relocation Commission, has said he wants to work with a willing seller, instead of having to resort to eminent-domain laws to take land from a private owner. If that holds, then West Jordan is off the hook, and so is Saratoga Springs.

Earlier this month, the Saratoga Springs City Council entered into an annexation and development deal with the owners of another parcel under consideration for the prison. That group of landowners includes Josh Romney, son of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The four remaining sites include one in Eagle Mountain, one in Tooele County near the Miller Motorsports Park and two in Salt Lake City near the international airport.

Salt Lake City leaders are holding two events Tuesday to voice their opposition to the proposal.

The state Legislature has voted to move the prison from its current home in Draper primarily because the 700 acres there would be prime land for development. Lawmakers have joined their prison-relocation efforts with plans to fight recidivism and to revamp the criminal code, which may result in a lowering of sentences for simple drug possession.

Source: MATT CANHAM | The Salt Lake Tribune