Cash on hand, City Hall seeks open space deals
Stymied in recent months in its efforts to purchase land to protect as open space, City Hall plans to approach a small group of landowners to gauge their interest in selling their parcels to the local government.
Officials are not disclosing which landowners will receive a mailing from City Hall, but fewer than 50 will likely be sent, according to Diane Foster, who directs the local government’s environmental programs and has been assigned open-space duties as well.
Foster says the letters will be "pretty targeted" to certain landowners. She expects they will be sent during the summer. City Hall has long been especially interested in buying land along the entryways to protect as open space. Years ago purchases off S.R. 224 were common, and more recently there has been a string of deals off S.R. 248. City Hall also occasionally purchases land in the interior of Park City.
It is unclear where the landowners who will receive the letter have their holdings.
Park City has not reached an agreement on an open space deal since midwinter, when City Hall and the Summit County government partnered to purchase 183 acres off S.R. 224 at Quarry Mountain in a $3.9 deal. It was the first time the two local governments teamed on an open space purchase.
Foster says the mailing will be an "invitation to talk." She says it will inform the landowners City Hall has money set aside for open space purchases through three voter-authorized bonds.
According to Foster, City Hall has $20.8 million for open space purchases — $800,000 remaining from Park City’s second bond and $20 million from the third.
Park City officials in recent years have acknowledged landowners are not as apt to sell to City Hall in open space deals as they were in the formative years of the local government’s conservation efforts. They have said the hot real estate market Park City enjoyed in the 1990s and most of this decade made it difficult to negotiate deals.
Foster says the upcoming mailing is not meant to coincide with the recent slowdown of the local real estate market. She says the price tag on open space is not falling.
"People are not dropping prices dramatically," Foster says.
City Hall’s open space efforts are among the most highly touted government programs of Park City’s modern era, with elected officials, staffers and activists pleased with the results. Regular Parkites have largely been happy with the purchases, easily passing the three bonds. Prime parcels purchased with the revenues from the bond include the Richards Ranch along the S.R. 224 entryway, the westernmost stretch of the Rail Trail and large swaths of land off S.R. 248.
Cheryl Fox, the executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy, an open space group that operates in Summit County, says conservation groups sometimes compile lists of the sorts of land they want to secure.
"You don’t know until you ask sometimes . . . You have to ask," Fox says.
She says she used that sort of strategy in mid-2007, when her group sent a letter to landowners on the East Side of Summit County with information about open space deals. She says an agreement was reached to conserve land on the banks of part of the Weber River in Henefer as a result of the mailing.
Fox, whose group holds a seat on City Hall’s open space panel and a similar committee in the Snyderville Basin, says it is difficult to predict if the mailing will lead to deals.
Fox, though, says City Hall is positioned well because it has money readily available for purchases and officials are not interested in securing approvals for developments before an agreement, as is the case with many private-sector land sales.
"The city has cash on hand. That might be attractive," she says.
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