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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City leaders are calling for state officials to consider keeping Utah's main prison in the same spot instead of rebuilding it elsewhere to make room for development.
At Tuesday morning rally, city council members and Mayor Ralph Becker said naming several possible sites for a new prison is distracting communities from a broader debate about whether the prison should move and why it can't be rebuilt at its 700-acre site in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper.
"The prison relocation project is tearing our state apart by pitting cities against one another," Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said.
He and other city officials called two sites in Salt Lake City inappropriate for a prison and promised to fight any plans for the facility to move there.
The locations on the city's west side or near the airport are relatively undeveloped and would require street lights, snow removal and other infrastructure, council chairman Charlie Luke said.
Luke said it would also be a costly venture likely shouldered by taxpayers.
Council members said Salt Lake City is already home to plenty of correctional facilities and adding another one would be unfair.
State officials signed off on moving the prison earlier this year, arguing the Draper facility is aging, too small and eating up valuable real estate in a budding tech-corridor.
Utah's Prison Relocation Commission had zeroed in on six possible sites for a new facility, but that number dropped to four after two landowners reconsidered their willingness to sell for the project and withdrew their properties from consideration.
Layton Republican state Sen. Jerry Stevenson, a co-chairman of the Prison Relocation Commission, said Tuesday evening that the Legislature has directed the commission to move forward with relocation, so that's what it will do unless directed otherwise.
"We have studied extensively the prison relocation, the process, where it goes and why. It still makes sense," Stevenson said.
If the state cannot find a willing seller, the state is willing to consider using eminent domain authority to acquire land, Stevenson said, but "that's certainly not the way that we would prefer to go with this."
He said the commission will start a public engagement process soon.
The rally Tuesday followed a Monday night meeting in West Jordan where Mayor Kim Rolfe announced owners of land west of that city were withdrawing their application with the prison commission.
The landowners were unavailable for comment Tuesday. Their real estate agent, Jason Hagblom, said the land was withdrawn because the owners worried a prison would devalue other property surrounding the site.
That leaves four remaining sites in Salt Lake, Tooele and Utah counties.
The Prison Relocation Commission is scheduled to meet again Dec. 22. They're expected to recommend a site or two sites to lawmakers sometime during the upcoming legislative session, which ends in mid-March.
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