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Critics of West Davis freeway route say country club swayed UDOT

Published June 24, 2013 12:03 pm

West Davis Corridor • Highway officials deny they gave Oakridge special treatment to avoid disrupting golf course.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Country clubs are exclusive by design. But critics of the proposed route for the West Davis Corridor say the Oakridge Country Club in Farmington sought special treatment from Utah officials studying whether to take part of one hole on its golf course for the proposed freeway.

Hal Hintze, club attorney, sent an email seeking a meeting with Utah Department of Transportation officials to express concerns over one of the route options for the highway.

"I realize the public input time has expired, but the country club should not be relegated to the general status of an interested member of the general 'public,' " he wrote.

He added that the club considered itself the "chief landowner affected" by the Shepard Lane alternative, which also would demolish numerous homes and businesses. But he said the club could be hurt more than others because losing part of the hole could downgrade and ruin the entire course.

Documents obtained through an open-records law request show the club fought hard, and successfully, to keep the freeway away. Among its tactics were signaling it might sue, seeing a legislator raise concerns with UDOT and even contending effects of that lost golf hole should make UDOT count all 381 club equity members as potentially "displaced persons" in an environmental impact statement (EIS).

"It does seem like they were seeking special consideration, and it does seem like they may have gotten it," said Lori Kalt, president of the Save Farmington community group opposing the current preferred route — which avoids the golf course — contending it will ruin her Glover Lane neighborhood instead.

"No, we weren't seeking special treatment," said Mark Jensen, general manager of the country club. "We're like anybody else. We were just trying to protect our land."

UDOT echoes that.

"They were given consideration, but they were not given special consideration," said Randy Jefferies, project manager for UDOT.

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Documents • Critics of the current preferred route had alleged the club and some local politicians may have unduly pressured UDOT to move the freeway from Shepard Lane to Glover Lane, so The Salt Lake Tribune made an open-records law request for all correspondence between them and UDOT.

Documents showed nothing unusual for the politicians. But some actions by the club were notable — including its assertion that it not be lumped in with the general public for purposes of comment. UDOT then held numerous meetings with Oakridge, which Jefferies said it also did in accommodating many other groups.

Oakridge complained in a March 2012 letter that its concerns had been "glossed over or excluded" from UDOT considerations, even though "no single person or entity will incur more adverse impact from this project."

It said it had most to lose from the possibility that the roadway could take out a portion of its par-4 14th hole.

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Special course • "Oakridge is not just an average 'municipal type' course — rather, it has all the unique features that make it capable of hosting PGA events," including the Utah Open and the regional U.S. open qualifying tournament, the club wrote. It said UDOT's proposal would ruin that by forcing shortening of the 14th hole.

It said that would mean three par-3 holes in a row, something not done by championship courses, and would downgrade the course's rating and ruin the club. It said that would require redesigning the entire course — if some adjacent land could be bought — at a cost of $3 million to $4 million (later increased to $5 million), and the club might not survive changes.

It added because the course is owned by 381 equity members, the EIS should list them all as "persons displaced or affected" by the freeway. The club signaled it could sue by warning that if the EIS did not fully address such issues and "indicate the quantum of private injury likely to arise," the EIS "would not withstand a challenge as to its adequacy."

Minutes of a Sept. 2, 2012, meeting with area legislators show, "Senator [Jerry] Stevenson [R-Layton] explained concern for the golf course," and UDOT officials responded that they had "been meeting with the golf course" and were "trying to minimize impacts."

Minutes of an earlier July 10, 2012, UDOT meeting with Oakridge officials noted that UDOT officials said then that the "decision on an alternative will not be made by the Legislature," but instead by UDOT and adopted by the Federal Highway Administration. The official record did not explain how or why the topic of legislative authority was introduced at the meeting.

Success • When UDOT selected its preferred alternative, one of the reasons highlighted was that it would avoid impacts on Oakridge Country Club.

The EIS noted the rejected Shepard Lane option would have forced the club to relocate at least one and up to three golf holes, "which UDOT considers to be a substantial business impact." It added the club said that "could lead to lower club membership, which could negatively affect the residential community surrounding the golf course."

Kalt said she found it "very odd" that UDOT would cite such an issue in its decision, "especially considering the country club is not a publicly owned facility."

She added, "It does seem that having more money and your position in society do somewhat affect [government] decisions."

Jensen, the club's general manager, said it fought hard to protect its property, but within the bounds of the law and propriety. In the end, though, he said he figures the club's arguments had little to do with the final decision and that other issues were bigger.

"I think it boiled down to cost. The Glover Lane route was something like $40 million less expensive," he said. "The majority of those expenses, if I read and heard right, was the realignment of the railroad."

He added, "I don't think that UDOT or the Federal Highway Administration would save Oakridge Country Club" because of pressure. "I think they are going to put the highway where the highway best fits what the public needs."

UDOT's Jefferies said meetings with Oakridge to try to reduce impacts were typical of those the agency held with many businesses and homeowners.

While acknowledging impact to the golf course was one reason UDOT chose Glover Lane over Shepard Lane, he said it was just one of many.

Jefferies said those included "impact on homes, dividing neighborhoods, relocating the railroad and FrontRunner, impacts to Haight Creek, historic properties and trails." —

West Davis Corridor Highway

UDOT is in a 90-day comment period on its draft EIS and preferred route. It hopes to make final decisions next year. No funding has yet been identified for the proposed freeway. However, long-range plans envision construction of the first section from Glover Lane to Antelope Drive by 2020, and completion of the rest to Hooper by 2030.