Ogden developer selection process still flawed despite change, critic says
OGDEN — Heath Satow has long railed at Ogden City Council meetings about what he labels the flawed process the city follows when selecting companies to develop city-owned properties.
He’s not budging from his critical point of view, even following unanimous adoption last month of new guidelines by city officials meant to address the issue. “I’m not shutting up about it,” Satow said.
The Ogden Redevelopment Agency board of commissioners, made up of Ogden City Council members, unanimously approved a new developer selection policy that, broadly speaking, is meant to open the process to more would-be developers. Apart from Satow’s frequent messages to city leaders on the issue during public comment periods at city meetings, some city officials have also lamented how developers are picked.
City Council member Ben Nadolski, for one, has said certain developers feel left out of the process, limiting the level of competition among firms wanting to do business with the city. The issue seemed to come to a head on April 4, when city officials voted by the narrowest of margins, 4-3, to approve a development project with a private developer on city-owned land at 550 24th St. Nadolski voted no — in the minority — questioning whether city negotiators “got the best value for Ogden.”
Among other things, the new policy, approved April 11, calls for creation of a database of developers, presumably to increase the number of firms interested in city development projects that are on the city’s radar screen. The effort is to be carried out by the Ogden Redevelopment Agency executive director, a role held by the mayor of Ogden, or the executive director’s appointee.
The new guidelines also state a preference for publicly seeking proposals from the private sector in developing city-owned property in the hands of the Ogden Redevelopment Agency, or RDA. The RDA typically oversees development of blighted city land by seeking private sector developers or partnering with the private sector.
“Public solicitation is the preferred process for developer selection,” the new guidelines read.
However, the policy also gives the RDA executive director — the mayor — wiggle room to use alternative means to select developers, though he or she must provide a justification for doing so to the RDA board, the City Council. The other means of picking developers spelled out in the new policy are via direct negotiation with interested firms and via unsolicited proposals coming from the private sector.
At the April 11 meeting, Satow argued against adopting the change when officials invited the public to comment. “I would rather not see you approve these changes even though I’ve been arguing for them for years now, because they’re not going to change anything,” he charged.
However, Marcia White, an RDA board and City Council member, argued that the change, while perhaps not perfect, was a step in the right direction. “I think we’re at a point where maybe we should look at doing something and then making it better, making it more like what we want it to be,” she said.
Likewise, she noted that in city development projects that have since faced criticism, officials were following a process, however flawed, and that it’s on RDA board members to flesh out the ramifications of the actions they take. “Whether we like it or not, a process was followed and we’re trying to make that process better,” she said.
To a certain extent, Satow said the Ogden mayor and the mayoral administration are the drivers in development policy, suggesting there are limits on what others can do to control the process. However, he said City Council members, who make up the RDA board, can have a big role by asking more questions when development plans emerge and taking the time to fully understand the project proposals before them.