NORTH OGDEN — A group of residents opposed to a multimillion-dollar amphitheater taking shape in Barker Park have filed suit against the City of North Ogden to force it to halt the project and tear out the changes made so far.
“Just stopping (the work) doesn’t solve the problem,” the homeowners’ lawyer, Matthew Ball of Salt Lake City, said Wednesday.
If the amphitheater is completed, Barker Park “will no longer be a bucolic enclave of lawn and playground frequented and enjoyed by neighborhood residents,” the neighbors argue in their suit filed Tuesday in 2nd District Court in Ogden. “It will instead become a loud, littered, often crowded, commercial entertainment hub.”
The residents, led by Aaron Christensen — who’s addressed the North Ogden City Council on the matter previously — also seek a preliminary injunction forcing the city to immediately halt the amphitheater work, at least until the broader issues are sorted.
A temporary stop to work, Christensen and the others argue in court papers, “will at most inconvenience the city. Indeed if plaintiffs are ultimately determined not to be entitled to a permanent injunction, the only consequence of a preliminary injunction for the city will be a few months of delay.”
Christiansen and the others are hoping for a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction as soon as possible.
The city, in its initial response Wednesday filed by Jon Call, the city attorney, expressed opposition to the push for a preliminary injunction. It has yet to formally respond to the broader lawsuit.
“Due to the substantial loss of money under construction contract penalties as well as the goodwill and likely increased bids of the various subcontractors who are performing their respective duties on the project, the city cannot simply halt the project,” Call wrote. “If the project is halted, the city is liable for tens of thousands of dollars in lost profits to contractors, increased rental fees for equipment, trailers and other items which must remain onsite or be remobilized to the site pending the outcome of the litigation.”
Call said by phone that he suspects there will “still be conversations” between the parties. Some sort of settlement outside a courtroom, he continued, “would be the city’s hope.” Before the lawsuit, the sides had been in talks, trying to reach middle ground as late as last week.
Plans to upgrade the small, uncovered amphitheater at Barker Park — several slabs atop a concrete stage — had been in the works since at least 2015. The city council signed off on the upgrade proposal last year and work started last November. Then in January, critics stepped forward as the scope of the project became apparent to them, voicing concern and forming a group called No Amph.
It’s become a heated issue, generating extensive public input — pro and con — during at least two recent North Ogden City Council meetings. More than 30 people sounded off on the issue at the body’s Feb. 13 meeting.
As it stands, plans ultimately call for a much larger $4.3 million facility, with the first phase — a 3,500-square-foot covered and raised stage, according to the suit, and a concrete area in front designed to hold fixed seating — to be done in May. Boosters see the facility as a means to bolster the arts in North Ogden and have said it could accommodate local and traveling productions.
Aside from the personal disruption the six plaintiffs fear they’ll suffer, they also argue that the amphitheater plans violate covenants in a warranty deed dating to the city’s acquisition of the land where Barker Park is located in 2000. Christensen, his wife Iim and two other couples who live near Barker Park — Sean and Stefanie Casey and Steven and Corrie Beverly — are suing the city.
Per the warranty deed crafted by the prior owners, Ray and Fern Barker, the park is to be maintained as “a traditional type city park and will be open to the public,” according to the lawsuit. The amphitheater contemplated, though, violates that, the neighbors charge, “and will not be open to the public.”
The plaintiffs seek a halt to the work and restoration of Barker Park “to its former condition.”
Call, in arguing against a temporary injunction, said there are more legal documents the court should review in making a determination on what a “traditional type city park” means. Granting an injunction, moreover, would set a negative precedent.
“It is adverse to the public interest of all communities in Weber County and the state of Utah to allow for neighbors of governmental projects to be granted (temporary restraining orders) every time they are upset by a project,” the North Ogden response reads.