NORTH OGDEN — Two months after work began, with concrete already pouring, a contingent in North Ogden has launched a bid to halt the massive upgrade of the Barker Park Amphitheater, worried about noise and traffic snarls.
“It’s going to be disruptive to the neighborhood,” said Aaron Christensen, who lives near the amphitheater and is helping spearhead the effort to stall the $4.3 million project. The foes, who have dubbed their initiative No Amph, have gathered about 200 signatures on petitions calling for a stop to the plans. They’re scheduled to make a formal presentation to the North Ogden City Council on Feb. 6.
The critics’ petition asks that construction be stopped to permit further study “regarding unresolved concerns with safety, traffic, sound, costs and overall community impact.” But Christensen, for his part, said he’d like the plans stopped altogether.
Jon Call, the North Ogden city attorney, said city leaders, including council members, have met with the critics and are mindful of their concerns. All along, the proposed amphitheater expansion has been coupled with plans to upgrade nearby parking, address expected traffic flow and mitigate sound from amphitheater events to minimize disruption to adjacent residents.
“I don’t think their concerns are falling on deaf ears,” Call said. Plans aim “to make the right fit for the area.”
Whatever the case, the emergence of the opposition at this stage was unexpected. A special committee started investigating possible amphitheater expansion in 2015, call said. City leaders, meanwhile, discussed the plans on and off through 2017, debating expansion of the original upgrade plans in October and holding a public groundbreaking ceremony to launch work on Nov. 15.
“I think it was a little surprising to the city officials because this has been one of the most widely publicized projects, from the city’s perspective,” Call said.
In his Facebook page, Brent Taylor, who took temporary leave as mayor earlier this month to deploy to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, echoed that. Brent Chugg is temporarily filling in for Taylor, though Taylor still seems to be keeping an eye on North Ogden developments.
“There has not been any project in recent years in this city that was more widely publicized and that had more opportunities for people to get involved and to learn what was happening,” Taylor wrote in his Facebook post. “The idea that this was secretive or rushed is simply not true.”
The concerned neighbors took part in a North Ogden Planning Commission meeting last September, Christensen said, but didn’t receive formal notice from city officials of other milestones in the project’s evolution.
“You would have thought that when something this large was taking place, they would have reached out sooner,” he said.
Aside from concerns about the impact to their neighborhood, the critics question if the expanded facility will be the draw boosters envision. The amphitheater had consisted of several vertical slabs atop a concrete foundation, surrounded by grass, while the upgraded facility will have a larger, covered stage with a dressing area, other enclosed facilities and new fixed seating for spectators.
Taylor has likened the upgraded amphitheater to the Kenley Amphitheater in Layton. But Christensen said the area around Barker Park, largely residential, lacks eateries and other businesses that help boost attendance at other similar locales.
NO LEGAL WEIGHT
The No Amph petitions don’t carry legal weight, Christensen said. He hopes the signatures the foes garner are enough to pressure city officials to heed their concerns. “If they don’t act soon, like I said, we have fewer options — the city has fewer options,” he said.
Meanwhile, the project is progressing, with concrete poured for a planned seating area around the front of the revamped stage and the new stage taking form, according to Call. He responded carefully to questions regarding the possibility of halting construction, hinting that stopping work could result in legal action from the contractor for payment of any outstanding amount outlined in the contract with the city.
City officials have thus far allocated $1.85 million of the $4.3 million needed for the project, and the current phase of work is to be completed in May. Money raised or earmarked later would be used to complete future phases.