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EAGLE MOUNTAIN — An overflow crowd opposing a proposed prison relocation site pledged to stand with the Eagle Mountain City Council as it adopted a resolution city officials hope will ward off the facility.
Residents of both Eagle Mountain and neighboring Saratoga Springs invoked images of earthquakes sending escaped prisoners scrambling for homes and skyrocketing taxes as Utahns paid for the move, speaking in a public hearing at what City Councilman Adam Bradley called an emergency meeting Wednesday night.
"I think the focus has been so much on what's best for the prisoners and their families that we need to be thinking about the people around the prisons who haven't done any harm or anything wrong, … especially the children," said Amy Plott, an Eagle Mountain resident of nine years.
Only two residents, a current lieutenant at the state prison and the wife of a corrections officer, stood to try to dispel some of the fear at the meeting.
"It's not as scary or as horrifying as they think," said Victor Smith, who has worked at the prison for more than 16 years.
Smith cited the impressive homes and thriving business that have continued to be developed in Draper through the prison's long tenure.
The council unanimously passed the resolution stating the proposed site comes too close to homes and lies in the direct path of development. The resolution pledged up to $50,000 for potential legal costs and publicity efforts fighting the prison site, which will be considered as a budget amendment in January.
The crowd loudly cheered Bradley and Mayor Christopher Pengra's support for allocating the money, while other members of the council initially questioned the need to plan for spending so early in the process.
The Eagle Mountain property is one of six sites announced by the Prison Relocation Commission as a possible location for a new $450 million facility to replace the aging Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain in Draper.
For 90 minutes, opponents wearing T-shirts and carrying signs with large red logos crossing out the word "prison," decried the costs and impacts of bringing the facility to the area, saying it would impact the quality of life for current residents and create barriers for future growth.
Many argued the far-flung Utah County site doesn't even fit the standards set by the commission.
Colby Curtis, who moved to Eagle Mountain almost six months ago, has helped organize a community push against the relocation. Curtis led off the public hearing both asking the council to "turn the heat up" opposing the prison sites and promising "we are with you all the way."
He called on all those hoping to block the prison from moving to the area to talk to their neighbors, call their legislators, contact the Utah Taxpayers Association and share their opinions on social media.
Opposition has surfaced to all of the sites, located in Salt Lake, Utah and Tooele counties, from both local officials and residents concerned with how a prison would affect their communities.
But that list is shorter after a group of developers including Josh Romney, son of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, sent a letter to the commission Wednesday withdrawing their 480-acre site near Saratoga Springs.
The action by Western States Ventures comes after the Saratoga Springs City Council approved an agreement Tuesday that moves forward a 2013 proposal to annex the property for a residential housing project known as The Springs.
The agreement, which spells out the developers must take the site out of contention for the 4,000-bed facility, allows for a broad mix of up to 2,000 residential units and retail, commercial and office space.
I personally don't think we gave up anything special for this. They didn't come in asking for apartments and high-rises.
–Jim Miller, Saratoga Springs mayor
It states that the developers have worked "diligently and in good faith" with the city to assist in opposing locating a prison on the site, which is described as not appropriate in light of the growing residential nature of the area.
"I personally don't think we gave up anything special for this. They didn't come in asking for apartments and high-rises," Saratoga Springs Mayor Jim Miller said.
The developers originally sought up to 2,200 residential units on the site, Miller said.
"We're going to get another nice development. Whether the prison helped speed that along or it would have happened anyway, we're going to end up with a product we're happy with," the mayor said.
The co-chairman of the commission, House Majority Assistant Whip-elect Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he was surprised Saratoga Springs acted as quickly as it did to make a deal with the developers.
Although the Saratoga Springs site will still be discussed at the commission's next meeting on Dec. 22, Wilson said without a willing seller, there's little to talk about. He said a large ravine may have pushed the site off the list.
Commission members adopted new criteria to use to evaluate the sites at the same time they identified their shortlist, including looking at the economic development impact and the proximity of homes and schools.
"I would hope these individuals, all of these community leaders, would allow the process to continue and allow us to find the best place to locate a prison," Wilson said. "I'm confident we're going to find the right place."
The site list approved by the commission on Dec. 3 also included two locations near the Salt Lake City International Airport, one in West Jordan, and one near Grantsville in Tooele County.
Rep.-elect Mia Love, R-Utah, wrote a letter to the commission Tuesday stating the inclusion of the Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs and West Jordan sites was "not warranted" and noting all of the potentials site are on the west side.
A rally against a prison in Tooele County is scheduled for Thursday, and a town hall meeting organized by a Facebook group, No Prison in West Jordan, is planned for Monday.