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Farmington farmer gets city ag protection, but lawyer wonders if it'll stick

FARMINGTON — After a public hearing packed with angry residents coming to the defense of a local farmer at risk of losing his 22-acre farm, the Farmington City Council voted this week to grant his property agricultural protections.

"We appreciate the support that we've had, and it's been surprising to me," sixth-generation farmer Alan Bangerter said at the public hearing, where his supporters overflowed out of the council chambers into the hallway.

"Sometimes you get lost out in the field working 20 hours a day and you don't know that anybody even knows that you're there," he said. "So we appreciate all my neighbors and friends."

But the attorney for Bangerter worries the agricultural protection won't be enough.

"There will be more to it than just that," Randall Edwards, Bangerter's attorney, told the Deseret News this week. "I wish it were that simple."

Edwards said he wasn't yet convinced Farmington will leave his client's property alone.

"They made no guarantees," he said.

The city chose Bangerter's farm, located at 650 W. 500 South, to become a soccer field when the newly approved West Davis Corridor wipes out about 8 acres of a city park that the Utah Department of Transportation will be required by federal law to replace.

"Our concern is really more that Farmington will not really assert itself to keep from taking this piece of property," Edwards said. "Right now they're buckling under public pressure, but who knows what else can happen."

Before the public hearing, Mayor Jim Talbot read a statement describing the difficult situation Farmington has been put in when the West Davis Corridor "plows" through west Farmington when construction begins in 2020. The city will be the most-impacted by the corridor and "did not ask for any of these impacts," the mayor said.

"As city officials, we are very saddened by this fact and are attempting to make the best of a bad situation," Talbot said.

City leaders want "open space to be preserved," the mayor said, "but with stronger guarantees than a mere (Agricultural Protection Area) label," which is why city officials asked Bangerter and his attorney to consider putting the property into a permanent conservation easement so the land could continue to be farmed and would be protected from any future development.

But Bangerter declined, saying he preferred the agricultural protection route because it would protect the farm and also allow his relatives to sell the land if they ever need to.

Bangerter got his agricultural protection, but Edwards acknowledged those protections can be superseded by federal law, so now he hopes to work with the city and UDOT to find an alternative for the soccer fields that must be replaced.

Talbot said the city will be asking UDOT to "consider an alternative site" other than the Bangerter farm, but declined to name what sites until UDOT has made contact with those property owners.

Unfortunately, if Bangerter's property is saved, "some other property owner in Farmington will be condemned by the state of Utah to satisfy the federal requirements" after the 1100 West park is torn up for the new highway, the mayor said.

John Gleason, spokesman for UDOT, said Thursday he's "absolutely" hopeful an alternative site can be found so Bangerter's farm can be saved.

"We'll work closely with Farmington city to designate an alternate replacement property," Gleason said, noting that UDOT officials will be meeting with Farmington city leaders in the coming days.

Gleason added that other properties had previously been suggested for the park, but he said more information about the alternative sites will have to wait until after UDOT's meeting with Farmington officials.

Either way, UDOT will work to minimize impacts on property owners in Farmington, Gleason said.

"That's the goal, to stay out of the way as much as we can," Gleason said. "We'll be working closely with Farmington to support them through the process."