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Future of surplus Ogden School District land focus of simmering debate

By Tim Vandenack - | Dec 2, 2022

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Abandoned basketball courts on the grounds of the former Lynn Elementary School in Ogden, photographed Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. Steve Van Wagoner of Ogden is pushing the city to incorporate the land into Ogden's park system.

OGDEN — With 18.1 acres of Ogden School District property up for grabs, the administration of Mayor Mike Caldwell is proposing acquisition of about 13 acres of it for development into housing under the auspices of the city.

The other 5.2-acre parcel, the site of the ex-Grandview Elementary School, should be left for development by the private sector, which has expressed interest in the land for townhomes.

After an at-times heated Ogden City Council work session earlier this week on the topic, though, city officials have yet to pinpoint a precise course of action. The leader of a local soccer club, Steve Van Wagoner, has been lobbying city officials to convert the land into open public space for parks or sports fields, a notion that seems to have sparked interest among some City Council members.

“I have a hard time deciding if what we have here is the highest and best use,” Ogden City Council Chairperson Ben Nadolski said at Tuesday’s work session, referencing the administration proposal. He said he’d like feedback from city parks officials on the idea of using the school district property for parks and seemed irked the administration didn’t more fully investigate that idea.

“I just want input from experts on our staff, the Edd Bridges of the city,” Nadolski said, alluding to Ogden City Recreation Manager Edd Bridge.

Mark Johnson, chief administrative officer for Ogden, responded, saying the city had limited time to delve into the matter. The Ogden School District formally declared the land in question surplus on Sept. 15 and advised the city of the decision on Sept. 21. Under Utah law, the city has first dibs on acquisition of the school district property, a right that lasts 90 days, until Dec. 20.

“I think with this short time frame and us trying to scramble to be able to come forth (to) you within that time frame, I think we did our best and I’m sorry it wasn’t good enough for you,” Johnson said.

Officials reached no public consensus at Tuesday’s meeting on next steps, but Johnson said Friday the issue would likely come to the Ogden City Council for action at their Dec. 13 meeting.

“I think the decision is, are we going to exercise the option we have?” Johnson said Friday. That is, the city could decide to acquire the land, or part of it, then decide later exactly how to use it.

The Caldwell administration proposes buying the 5.9-acre parcel where Lynn Elementary used to sit in the 500 block of Grant Avenue and two school district properties measuring 7.1 acres in all in the 500 and 600 blocks of Jackson Avenue in northern Ogden. Between them, the properties have an appraised value of around $2.41 million.

The ex-Grandview Elementary property, which the administration thinks should be left to the private sector, has an appraised value of around $1.8 million.

While saying how the city uses any property it buys from the school district could be decided later, Johnson still expressed reservations about using the land for park space. He questions whether the Ogden Parks Department has the staffing to take on maintenance of more park space. Moreover, he suggests existing city parks could be reconfigured or reformatted to create more playing space for sports teams, one of the issues Van Wagoner has raised in lobbying for more parks.

Beyond that, giving the land over to housing would broaden the tax base, generating more tax revenue, Johnson said. And with declining enrollment in the Ogden School District, creating housing in the space would bring in more residents, helping boost the pool of kids entering the school system.

Jeremy Smith, a deputy manager in the Ogden Department of Community and Economic Development, presented the administration proposal pertaining to the school district property at Tuesday’s meeting.

He said the ex-Lynn Elementary property is zoned for single-family homes and could potentially accommodate 30 houses. One of the two Jackson Avenue parcels contains a home, which would be renovated under the administration proposal, while the larger 6.6-acre plot could accommodate up to 30 new homes.

In other instances when the City of Ogden has acquired land for development into homes, Smith said, it’s helped spur interest in the neighborhoods and helped spruce them up. “We would hope to have a similar effect in some of these neighborhoods, bring a lot of energy, revitalization and growth. (It would) be a huge benefit to the city,” he said.

Johnson maintains there’s less developer interest in the Jackson Avenue and ex-Lynn Elementary properties. Given its relative proximity to Weber State University, by contrast, “oodles of people” have expressed interest in developing the ex-Grandview Elementary land, most likely into townhomes.

The $2.41 million to acquire the Jackson Avenue and ex-Lynn Elementary properties would come, in part, from money the city has set aside as part of the Quality Neighborhoods Initiative, a program meant to help stabilize and revitalize Ogden neighborhoods.

Van Wagoner, who leads Ogden Soccer, a local youth soccer league, said Friday that he attended Tuesday’s work session resigned to the idea that the city would probably decide to acquire the school district land for development, not parks. Now, though, he thinks the notion of turning the land, or at least part of it, into park space has a 50-50 chance.

“I witnessed our council representing the community, asking meaningful questions to the administration,” Van Wagoner said. “Our council really cares about open space preservation and access to useable park space for all citizens, and our administration seemed receptive to leaving the space open for the greater public use and access.”

He indicated that the issue has generated a lot of interest in the neighborhoods where the land sits. He suspects many will be on hand at the next Ogden City Council meeting when the issue comes up for deliberation.

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