Monday , April 16, 2018 - 5:15 AM
Construction work continues at the Barker Park amphitheater in North Ogden on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. Crews began working on the upgrade to the facility in 2017. Some neighbors protested the expansion and filed a lawsuit in early 2018.
OGDEN — As earlier envisioned, what’s now Barker Park in North Ogden — the center of controversy stemming from a massive amphitheater taking shape there — was to have been a quiet place, where nature was the focus.
That meant no football, soccer or baseball fields, said John Hendrickson, North Ogden’s city administrator from 1998 to 2002, alluding to the vision of Ray and Fern Barker, who sold the land to the city in 2000. The Barkers, Hendrickson said, hoped for a “passive type of a park.”
Likewise, talk at the time of developing a small amphitheater as the park plans first took shape generated mixed sentiments.
“We were concerned even with that,” Hendrickson recalled this week in 2nd District Court in Ogden, offering testimony at a hearing on the call by amphitheater foes for a halt to construction of the facility. “As I said before, because of sound, mainly because of sound.”
Construction of the new amphitheater moves ahead, but that hasn’t stopped the three couples living around Barker Park pushing for a stop to the work and removal of the upgrades completed thus far. They filed suit against the city of North Ogden in February, and Hendrickson took the stand on Wednesday in 2nd District Court in Ogden, called to bolster the contention that the amphitheater being built doesn’t fit the original vision of the park.
A new subdivision was to have been developed adjacent to the land set aside for the planned park, Hendrickson testified, and one of the discussion points at the time was minimizing the possibility of disruptive activity. “We were concerned with the traffic. This was supposed to be a quiet park and a quiet subdivision,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson was one of a handful witnesses who testified on behalf of the neighbors on Wednesday. Witnesses put forward by the city are to take the stand at the next court date, May 9, and Judge Noel Hyde, meantime, has yet to rule on the call for a temporary injunction halting work while the larger issues of their lawsuit are resolved.
Work on the upgraded amphitheater started last November, after the North Ogden City Council approved a $1.85 million contract with Wadman Corp. to handle the first phase of the project. Talk of augmenting the small, concrete-slab amphitheater that previously sat at the location dates to 2015 and city leaders discussed the plans on-and-off through 2017.
Nevertheless, as work unfolded late last year, the scope of the project took some of the neighbors by surprise — Aaron Christensen, wife Kim and others — leading to their lawsuit last February. They worry about noise, traffic and more brought on by the larger amphitheater and say its construction violates a 2000 warranty deed the city crafted with Ray and Fern Barker in connection with the city’s purchase of the land.
The deed states that the park the city was to develop “will be a traditional type city park, and will be open to the public,” and Hendrickson offered insight into the talks between the Barkers and city officials leading to the document’s formulation.
The amphitheater, as envisioned in those early talks, called for a small “natural” facility, he said, “but not the place it is now.” The stage pad would measure 10 feet by 16 feet, perhaps, and have no fixed seating or ticketing area.
Hendrickson has visited the site of the amphitheater taking shape, which would have a covered stage when complete, about 500 fixed seats and an enclosed area for dressing rooms, storage and more. “It was a whole lot different than what we ever envisioned, certainly more grandiose,” he said.
Though the city’s witnesses have yet to take the stand, Richard Reeve of Riverdale, representing the city, said the warranty deed in question is open to “numerous interpretations.” He cited the city’s investment in the amphitheater project thus far, around $1 million, and the fees of perhaps $20,000 a month the city would face if forced to bring work to a halt.
Moreover, Reeve pointed to the public process leading to the amphitheater project. The involvement of the Christensens and other neighbors now suing “was basically nonexistence” during much of that process, he said.
The current phase of amphitheater work is to be completed by mid-June, according to city officials.