OGDEN — The developers and investors in a proposed film studio and school in western Weber County are “very committed” to the project, says Matthew Bartlett, a partner in the proposal.
The studio and school, proposed on an undeveloped 87-acre parcel off 1200 South abutting the Weber River and the southwestern Marriott-Slaterville city boundary, could take shape within two years, he thinks. “They’re set on doing this,” he said.
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The project, dubbed The Studio Ranch in planning documents submitted by developers, received a preliminary OK late Tuesday night from the Western Weber County Planning Commission. In a 5-1 vote, the body voted to recommend a rezone of the land from agricultural to commercial and amendments to the county’s general plan, which guides development in the area, so the plans can move forward. Weber County commissioners have final say and they have yet to take up the plans.
Bartlett, a Riverdale attorney, has cited strong demand for film studio facilities in California and the example of Utah Film Studios, a Park City studio that serves as the filming location for “Yellowstone,” the Paramount Network TV show. The Weber County project — also including a rodeo arena, a hotel, retail outlets and more, aiming to draw tourists and visitors — would generate 400 to 600 jobs, he estimates.
Whatever the case, the proposal has some of the neighbors who live around the site nervous, worried it’ll disrupt the rural zone and compound traffic issues on busy 1200 South, the western extension of Ogden’s 12th Street. Ahead of the 5-1 vote, several spoke out, questioning whether to project fit in the zone. A cluster of homes sits off the southwestern corner of the project area and most speaking out live in that small neighborhood.
“I hope we’re not getting ahead of ourselves in rezoning this, with stars in our eyes, Hollywood,” said Gordon James.
He worries about the upshot if the land is rezoned to commercial and The Studio Ranch plans ultimately fizzle. “Now it’s commercial. Who knows what kind of commercial comes in ... Do we want to open the door to start letting commercial in?” he said.
Katrina Miller cited her family’s roots in the area and the agricultural tradition of the zone. She’s a fifth-generation western Weber County resident and lauded the country feel in the area. “It means a big deal to me to preserve that rural character,” she said.
John Parke, the planning commission member who voted no on the plans, expressed reticence at amending the general plan to allow commercial development at the location. Officials have discussed updating the general plan, but still, it’s supposed to serve as a blueprint for future development and he’s uncomfortable amending it “so radically” to allow the project without broader public input.
Many project details have yet to be worked out and project developers and county planners have discussed numerous accommodations to the plans to minimize the adverse impact to neighbors. Those include berms and trees along the periphery of the project area, limits on building height, moving certain project elements away from neighbors and more.
“We are not a big developer that’s coming in and we’re going to overpower everyone,” Bartlett said.
The architectural styling would aim for an agricultural feel, blending with the rural zone. What’s more, developers have discussed carrying out traffic studies to get a handle on likely traffic issues while Bartlett emphasized that the facility would be relatively quiet, a prerequisite of any film studio. “Needless to say, it can’t be loud,” he said.
Charlie Ewert, principle planner in the Weber County Planning Division, said the next step after Tuesday’s action would be negotiating a development agreement with The Studio Ranch reps outlining project details and conditions. Then the plans would go to Weber County commissioners for consideration, probably in a month and a half or more.
Presuming the plans are approved and things move ahead, hooking the property into a sewer system would probably be one of the first orders of business, according to Bartlett. The film studio and school would come first, followed by the rodeo arena.
Meantime, officials in adjacent Marriott-Slaterville have discussed the possibility of annexing the unincorporated land where the project is to take shape, a potential boon to their property tax coffers if the plans move forward.
Bartlett offered little when asked about that possibility. Marriott-Slaterville Mayor Scott VanLeeuwen said Wednesday that the talk has been spurred in part by rumors that the city of West Haven, south of the project site, is potentially interested in annexing the land.
Partners in the project include Todd Bay of Bay Entertainment Group and Giant Entertainment and Management of Westlake Village, California.