North Ogden amphitheater critics call for stop to work, warn of lawsuit

Thursday , February 08, 2018 - 5:15 AM

NORTH OGDEN — Critics pushing for a review of the Barker Park Amphitheater upgrade plans are calling for an immediate halt to the ongoing work, saying a court fight may be the alternative.

Before more is done — work started last November and much of the concrete for the new stage and seating area has been poured — they want to meet with North Ogden leaders to discuss alternatives to the current plans. The foes, who have garnered 250-300 signatures on petitions, charge that the $4.3 million amphitheater, as proposed, is too large and disruptive for the area and that city leaders rushed into the plans.

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“Put simply, the plans for the amphitheater have to change,” Aaron Christensen, a homeowner living near Barker Park helping lead efforts against the plans, told the North Ogden City Council at a packed meeting here Tuesday night. “Our strong preference is to sit down with the council and cooperatively explore alternatives.”

Christensen said the expanded amphitheater plans violate a 2000 warranty deed executed by the prior owners of the land where Barker Park sits, Ray and Fern Barker. Barring a stop to the ongoing amphitheater work pending resolution of the dispute, he warned that project critics “will feel constrained to file suit against the city to enforce the deed covenant through preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.”

The warranty deed, Christensen said, states that Barker Park “will be a traditional type city park.” Because of its large scale, the upgraded amphitheater, however, turns the green space into a “regional theater and concert venue.”

City leaders suggested continued discussion at the city council meeting on Feb. 13 and Jon Call, the city attorney, said Wednesday that that was the tentative plan. Sean Casey, another neighbor involved in the fight against the amphitheater, said representatives from the two sides were in communication on Wednesday to pin down the next steps.

> North Ogden's new Barker Park amphitheater preparing to break ground

Work on the amphitheater upgrade started last November and crews, still at it on Wednesday, have worked steadily ever since. Vocal opposition, however, only emerged last month, as those living near the park became aware of the scope of the upgrade, leading to formation of the group spearheaded by Casey, Christensen and others, No Amph.

‘TOO MUCH, TOO FAST’

Many spoke out at Tuesday’s city council meeting, questioning council members about the project and expressing concern about the scope of the upgrade. The old amphitheater consisted of a small ground-level stage surrounded by several vertical concrete slabs and fronted by a grassy area where spectators sat. The new plans call for a much more expansive stage, raised and covered by an open shell and fronted by a concrete area where fixed seats are to be installed.

Rod Barker, son of Ray Barker, expressed accord with Christensen, and said he and his siblings would prefer a scaled-back amphitheater plan. “They are not opposed to an amphitheater, but they are to the huge scale that is designed,” Barker said.

Allen Christensen, a state senator from North Ogden related to some of those involved in efforts against the upgrade amphitheater, suggested modifying the plans. “It’s just progressed too much, too fast, without the proper steps in time and in line,” he said.

Calista Ekstrom, a college student studying theater who grew up playing in Barker Park, spoke favorably of building an amphitheater, increasing arts offerings and opportunities here. An enhanced amphitheater could unite the community, she said, but as is, she lamented, the plans haven’t had that effect.

“It shouldn’t be something that’s tearing our community apart but I personally see the potential for it to bring us together,” she said.

Ray and Fern Barker sold the land where Barker Park now sits to the city in 2000, hoping, in part, to preserve a large expanse of green space in the city. The city turned it into Barker Park, yet to be fully developed, and the amphitheater upgrade plans have been in the works since at least 2015, with final tweaks and plan approvals by city officials last year.

Brent Taylor, on leave as mayor to complete a tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, has been a big project cheerleader, touting the upgraded amphitheater as a potential hub of theater and arts. Working with a citizens committee formed to investigate the amphitheater plans, he pushed last year to increase the scope of the plans as earlier envisioned.

Aaron Christensen and others, though, say the city didn’t do enough to get word out to nearby residents about the plans. After Tuesday’s meeting he said he’d be open to a scaled-back amphitheater to resolve the matter. That, he acknowledged, could entail undoing some of the work that’s already been done.

City council members didn’t offer much public reaction to the comments at Tuesday’s meeting. Councilwoman Sara Fawson, new to the body, alluded to the scrutiny the plans received last year from city officials in varied public meetings.

“I don’t know that we can just halt construction,” she said. She’s willing to meet with project opponents, she said, “but this has already gone through a process. It has been approved.”

Jon Call, the North Ogden city attorney, said Wednesday that the 2000 warranty deed provision stating that Barker Park is to be a “traditional” park will be a likely “discussion point” as the sides sort through the matter. Short of a court order, any decision to halt construction on the amphitheater, he added, would have to be made by the North Ogden City Council.

A rep from the project contractor, Wadman Corp., said stopping work could result in extra fees to the city of $10,000 per week to cover demobilization costs of the varied work crews involved.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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