by Louise R. SHAW
FARMINGTON—In the end, everyone agreed that the best use of farmland in Farmington is to keep farming it.
But the process of getting to that point was, at times, contentious.
On Tuesday, May 1, Farmington City Council members voted unanimously in favor of designating 22.37 acres of land owned by Alan Bangerter and his family, as an Agricultural Protection Area.
Prior to the vote, supporters of the Bangerter farm from Farmington, plus West Valley, Lehi, Brigham City, Layton and Bountiful, took to the podium to express their views and sometimes, take council members to task.
Some told of the life’s lessons they’d learned as teens working on the farm, some spoke of the high quality produce Bangerter contributes to the community.
One told of his experience with a youth group gleaning produce for the food pantry. Another told of how she had needed that produce when facing family difficulties.
A physician told of the need for more healthy produce to combat Utah’s obesity problem. State leaders reported that with the decline of farmland, only 2 percent of produce consumed by Utahns is produced in Utah. A business owner told of how he has to go out of state and sometimes out of the country to find produce to sell at his stands and needs the produce Bangerter provides.
Neighbors of the farm property said they didn’t mind the dust that sometimes fills the air near a farm, and that they’d prefer it to the traffic from soccer fields.
Indeed, it was soccer fields vs. farmland that primarily drove the discussion.
The Utah Department of Transportation has selected the route through Farmington for its West Davis Corridor, a decision that has spawned the debate over land use.
That decision, said Mayor Jim Talbot, was one “we did not ask for” and one that is significantly affecting hundreds of people in the city.
Bangerter will lose eight acres to the corridor through eminent domain. But because UDOT needs to find another 10 acres to mitigate the loss of land that will be taken at the 1100 West Park, he could lose even more.
UDOT is interested in his Farmington land because it borders the city’s recreation center, but residents argued there are other options for fields – one saying more fields weren’t needed at all — and Bangerter argued that it has taken years for the soil there to become productive.
He has been working with attorneys and has taken his story public through media channels and social media efforts – including an online petition that collected 8,000 signatures.
The night before the public hearing and vote, Bangerter’s attorney received a memo from the Farmington city attorney, suggesting that the council would support his APA request if he agreed to place a conservation easement on the property.
In emails and press releases and material distributed at the city council meeting, Bangerter called the move a “sleazy, last-minute, back-room squeeze” and “extortion.”
Talbot told the audience prior to the public hearing that city leaders thought the easement would provide “a much better protection. An easement is an extra layer of protection and is consistent with past open space efforts,” he said.
Rebecca Wayment, a city council member, said the easement would have “put a little more teeth” behind saving the land in perpetuity and denied what some had charged.
“There is no malicious intent,” she said.
City council members used most of their time after the public hearing to counter the charges thrown at them.
“I’m surprised by the level of hate mail and vitriol,” said Brett Anderson, emphasizing that the negative reactions had come before the council had even met over the proposal.
“At the end of the day, we’re doing the best we can,” said Doug Anderson. “Please understand where we’re coming from – there are no shady projects … I hope Bangerters can farm that land forever and I hope they do well.”
The Bangerters also farm land in Bountiful and on unincorporated land in Davis County. Both Farmington City and the Davis County Commission approved the APA designation sought by the Bangerter family on May 1. Bountiful City will review the application on May 22.