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Duke family pleads case to Heber City Council on property use

 The Duke Farms property as viewed facing west, June 5, 2023. Heber City purchased the property, which lies just west of the current city cemetery, with the initial intent to expand it. Heber City Manager Matt Brower said the city later created a master plan
Rob Winder
The property known as the Duke Farm in Heber City as viewed from the east, June 5, 2023. The city purchased the property from the Duke family in 2018.

City officials recently floated the idea of using the city-owned property known as the Duke Farm as an affordable housing development for essential workers. Members of the Duke family and their neighbors packed the city council chambers Tuesday to voice their opposition to the idea.

Di Ann Duke Turner was given 20 minutes on Tuesday’s council agenda to state the family’s position on how the property should be used. She said the city initially reached out in 2017 about buying the property with the expressed desire to use as a cemetery expansion. But as the sale was being negotiated, Turner said the city refused to be bound to its own intentions.

“Cemetery, open space and parks were conveniently cut out of every proposal that was handed to us,” she told the council.   

At one point, talks eventually broke down. Turner said then-city manager Mark Anderson told her that the city was going to include housing for cemetery workers on the property.

“I said, ‘You're not about to do that. Over my dead body you're going to do that,’" she said. "And he says, ‘Well, when we get this property, that's exactly what we're going to do.’ And I said, ‘No, you're not because this property is no longer for sale to Heber City.’” 

Turner said talks resumed when a new city administration took office in 2018. But the city again didn’t budge when the family tried to stipulate what the land would be used for.

“This person told me that the seller, which was Duke Farms, cannot bind the buyer to what the property can be used for after it is sold," she said. "Guess what? We were stupid, and we believed them. And so we signed.” 

Turner’s brother, Dean Duke, told the council they were advised after the fact that that information actually wasn’t true. He also said the family could have sold the property to developers themselves. But he said the family was very “civic minded.” He said turning the land into open space for the entire community was “a noble thing to do.”

“The major reason that we signed the contracts was that we had faith that the city would act with respect for our wishes,” Dean Duke said.  

Nearly 20 members of the Duke family and their neighbors also spoke in favor of keeping the property as open space. Many of them, including Heber City resident Pam Patrick, said the city’s integrity was at stake.

“Your word means something," she said. "The Duke family did this with good faith and they're hoping that you do it with good faith also.” 

The makeup of the city council was very different when the sale occurred five years ago. Councilmember Mike Johnston said the current council had not been privy to many of the details of the sale Turner recounted at the meeting.

“We have not discussed this with maliciousness or with lack of integrity. We have not had this history,” he said.   

In previous discussions, Johnston expressed support for building affordable housing on the property. At Tuesday's meeting, he was open to turning it into a park. He said it would be the biggest in the city, and he asked for the public’s support in funding the parks they want.

“It looked like a good spot to discuss and to consider and to get expert opinion on. But you have spoken eloquently and passionately and we hear you,” he said.  

Councilmember Rachel Kahler told KPCW that the Duke family and their neighbors made a compelling case to the council.

“I really do think that the council would probably think twice about pursuing any kind of affordable housing on that property at this time,” she said.

She also expressed appreciation for how the Duke family addressed their concerns.

“So often, we just need to sit down and hear each other. And I felt like that's what last night's meeting was about,” Kahler said.  

But she said, since a conservation easement does not exist on the property, action needs to be taken now to prevent similar discussions with future city councils.

“In order for this land to be preserved, we need to develop the park," she said. "We need to put a plan in place, whether it's a passive park with nature trails and open space, we need to determine what that is.”

Kahler noted that this year is Heber City’s “Year of the Parks.” She said the city has been focused on renovations to Main Street Park. But she said the council should also make developing the Duke land a higher priority.

The city council will meet again on June 20