OGDEN — Parents are preparing to protest a cement barrier placed between the parking lots of Weber Innovation High School and the IFA Country Store on 12th Street.
The store erected the barrier to prevent school traffic from accessing the school parking lot through a portion of the IFA parking lot the company calls a “drive aisle” in court documents. The aisle connects the IFA store parking lot to an intersection and traffic light on 12th Street that IFA partially funded.
Parents, however, say the lack of access to the light is a safety issue for student drivers. They’ve planned a protest for 2 p.m. Monday near the school.
“What we want to do in this demonstration is be able to reopen this access, have parents advocate for the safety of students, faculty members, buses, county employees to be able to have safe access to our parking lot without putting themselves at risk every time they come to and from this school building,” said Rebecca Gurnee, parent of a student at Weber Innovation High School.
In a suit against IFA filed in February, Weber School District argues that the “drive aisle” is a public easement and that students, parents and employees of the school should be able to use the easement to access the traffic light on 12th Street. Concerned parents share this view.
Without access to the light, inexperienced student drivers often make left turns out of the school’s two driveways, forcing them to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic and merge into westbound traffic on a road where cars drive 50 miles per hour. Students attending Two Rivers High School, just to the east of Weber Innovation, face the same problem.
Ashleigh Roper, a junior at Weber Innovation High School, and Oakleigh Morrow, a senior, say that the turn lane is where they run into the most danger.
“I’ve been almost in a couple of accidents,” said Roper. Even though Roper needs to head west after school, her parents don’t want her to take a left turn coming out of the Weber Innovation parking lot. They’ve asked her to turn right onto 12th Street, drive east and use a light to turn left into the BDO, where she flips around to head back west.
Because cars driving west on 12th Street in front of the school sometimes move too early into the left turn lane leading to the intersection — and because the school driveways are so close to the light — “it’s almost a head-on collision all the time,” said Morrow.
Bus drivers face the same problems turning left out of the school parking lots onto 12th Street, with the added challenge of a much larger vehicle.
“It’s a whole lot safer to use the light than trying to use your judgment trying to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic, plus the traffic coming west, pull in the median and hope you can merge,” said Stephen Kendall, who has driven buses for Weber School District for 18 years.
Bambi Cutler, a bus driver in her 11th year with Weber School School District, said that once when she was turning left into the turn lane on 12th Street, a Walmart truck got so close it hit her side mirror.
School administrators regularly stop oncoming traffic to allow the buses to turn left, risking their own safety.
IFA’s primary arguments in defense of the barrier, as described in court documents, are that the plat — a map showing the divisions of a piece of land — approved by Marriott-Slaterville designates the driving aisle as an easement only for other property owners within the same subdivision on the plat. They say the subdivision on the plat does not include the property owned by Weber School District, where Weber Innovation and Two Rivers are located.
While the school district sees the “drive aisle” as a public easement that they should have access to, they still offered to pay IFA to use it “in a good faith effort to be a good neighbor,” according to a timeline of events prepared by the district’s attorneys and shared by Lane Findlay, the district’s community relations specialist.
Findlay said the district had the land appraised and offered IFA $300,000 in December 2018.
IFA presented the district with a counter offer of $900,000, a price they arrived at by estimating “the cost of necessary modifications of the Drive Aisles, plus the loss of property required to make the modifications, plus the District’s share of the cost to install the four-way signal, plus other continuing and increased maintenance, repair, and replacement obligations,” as described in court documents, though a breakdown of these costs was not provided.
The district did not see that as a reasonable counter offer and withdrew its original offer.
IFA reported to the court that Weber School District removed its own fencing between the school and IFA parking lots on Jan. 13, allowing school traffic to use the drive aisle. IFA said the fencing had been in place until that day. The next day, IFA erected the cement barrier.
According to the district’s timeline, the district filed a motion in January for a temporary restraining order requiring the barrier to be removed, which was granted the same day.
In April, Judge Michael DiReda ruled in favor of IFA at a preliminary injunction hearing, allowing IFA to replace the barrier “on the basis that the judge did not believe there was an imminent risk of harm,” according to the district’s timeline.
According to Weber Innovation parents, the barrier was in place again Wednesday morning. Litigation between Weber School District and IFA is ongoing.