Brigham City seeks public's opinions at special forum

Nov 25 2012 - 12:31am

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BRIGHAM CITY -- A special public forum will allow Brigham City residents to express their opinions about any number of local issues, such as the city's economic development effort or a bridge over the railroad tracks on Forest Street.

The special session of the Brigham City Council will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at the Bunderson Center, 641 E. 200 North.

The meeting will begin with a 45-minute presentation on an economic development study conducted by Better Cities, a consulting firm run by former Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey. Following the presentation, the council will take questions and feedback on any subject.

The $100,000 study seeks to promote more jobs and business growth in the city through use of cluster analysis, which identifies groups of related businesses in specific industries whose collective experience and collaboration can provide a competitive business edge. A cluster would include all the supporting entities, such as suppliers and service providers.

The study was paid for by government grants and donations from local businesses. Its focus on such private-public partnerships has some citizens worried.

Resident Becky Maddox described such efforts as socialism.

"We've gone far, far down that path," she told a recent city council meeting. "We have to get Brigham City out of this farce, out of selling us into slavery."

Her opinions were echoed by Sherry Phipps and Deanna Hardy, both of Brigham City. They told council members that government should not be in the position of promoting certain businesses.

Hardy reminded them of the city's decision to facilitate a $400,000 loan from the federal government for a high-end hotel to relocate in downtown Brigham City.

"Where's the private citizen in all this?" Hardy asked. "No one's looking out for him."

Phipps added that the constitution "doesn't give government the right to pick and choose businesses."

Mayor Dennis Fife said the meeting is part of an effort to make Brigham City's government more open. The city has also distributed cards at local businesses that allow residents to write down their opinions.

"It's a difficult thing to decide what is best," said Fife.

At the same time, he defends the economic development plan as strategic planning, and the proposed hotel loan as a way to increase the city's tax base to help pay for the proposed Academy Square project.

The Academy Building was originally built in 1904 as a dance and arts academy by the Christensen brothers, one of whom, Willam, went on to found Ballet West.

The Academy Building has already been partially upgraded, and plans call for a multi-use plaza that Fife says will be a "centerpiece for Brigham City."

Another issue that may bring comment is the proposal to build a bridge over the railroad tracks on west Forest Street. This issue is sometimes confused with a special zoning plan for Forest Street that seeks to bring in multiple-employee businesses.

City's master plan

The "west Forest overlay special zoning ordinance" is part of the city's master plan to discourage certain business types along the route. For instance, the ordinance prohibits car-salvage yards, as well as storage units. "We're trying to make it a better situation," said Fife.

The addition of restaurants and hotels in the zone's allowed uses led some citizens to worry that Brigham's unique hometown flavor may be changed.

Railroad bridge issue

The railroad bridge issue raised eyebrows when, in October, the city hosted a meeting for Forest Street landowners and business owners. However, due to what Fife called a mailing mix-up, many of those people did not receive notice of the meeting, and it appeared to city government watchers that the city was trying to hide something.

The issue arose early this year when drivers were being held up at the Forest Street railroad crossing by trains for increasingly longer periods of time, sometimes up to 40 minutes, said Fife.

"People were just irate," he said. For six months, the city kept a timer at the crossing to time delays, sending the report monthly to the Union Pacific railroad. Eventually the railroad agreed to help fund a study on bridge alternatives.

Consultants came up with seven options of bridge locations and road improvements, which are now posted on the city's website.

Since then, it appears to Fife the delay times at the crossing have decreased. At any rate, public fervor has died down.

"I don't know if people just calmed down, or the delays have improved so much they're not complaining as much as they did," he said.

Fife said he hopes to hear from the "silent majority" at Wednesday's meeting.

"We have public hearings to get the voice of the people," he said. "Part of the problem is that if only (a few people) are there, is that the voice of the people? How do you truly know?

"We absolutely listen to every comment and take it for face value."

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