City Hall closer to winning land
The House of Representatives Monday passed City Hall-backed legislation that would transfer federal lands to the Park City government, the second time the bill has cleared the lower chamber of Congress.
Park City officials have long coveted as open space the approximately 110 acres of land, split between two parcels, including the prized Gambel Oak tract. That land stretches for about 90 acres south of April Mountain and a popular trail climbs through the parcel. The other piece, known as White Acre, is about 20 acres and sits north of Gambel Oak.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, the Republican who represents Park City, requires the land be kept as open space and be used for recreation. It is similar to legislation Bishop sponsored in 2006. That bill passed the House but the Senate did not cast a vote.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, has sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which a committee is considering. If it clears the Senate, President George W. Bush would have to sign the bill into law.
"This bill does three good things. It helps settle long-term concerns over the future of these lands, it preserves some important open space and it gives control and access for these lands to those closest to it, the leaders and citizens of the city," Bishop says in a prepared statement that is similar to one he made when he introduced the bill.
If the bill is made law, City Hall would be required to pay $2 million to purchase mining claims that entangle the Gambel Oak property. They have complicated past negotiations and the Park City Council, as the previous version of the bill was considered, agreed to the price tag.
Mayor Dana William says the bill has won bipartisan support. He says there is an "excellent" chance it will clear the Senate and the president will sign the bill.
Park City officials have long wanted to control the Gambel Oak land, where the Air Force once considered building a military hotel. They want to ensure the land remains as open space and keep the trail open.
Last fall, after the city agreed to the $2 million price tag on the mining claims, a representative of the family that holds them said the owners were pleased that regular Parkites would benefit from the open space.
"The family is happy there’s a resolution. We’ve been working on it for so many years," the representative, Dave Nilsson, told The Park Record in September.
People who hold mining claims typically do not own the surface land but have rights to the minerals underneath. There are such claims scattered throughout much of Park City, which was a silver-mining town before it re-emerged as a skiing destination in the last half of the 20th century.
Williams says the $2 million is about the same price, per acre, that City Hall has paid for nearby land. He also touts the location, saying it is in the city, different than lots of big open-space buys, which are typically on the entryways. He says the land is near other parcels already set aside from development.
"That will give us 220 acres of contiguous open space in the middle of the city," he says.
City Councilwoman Candy Erickson agrees, saying the land is critical to preserve.
"It’s a wildlife area. There’s moose living up there," Erickson says, adding there is the potential of hilltop development, as visible as houses in the Aerie, she says, if the land is not preserved.
Parkites have long supported City Hall’s open-space program, including overwhelmingly approving three conservation bonds. Regular Parkites have not closely monitored the legislation, though.
The federal Bureau of Land Management controls the parcels and in the 1970s determined that some of the land was better suited for local ownership.
"I am amazed that something as simple and straightforward as this has taken so much time and effort, but a lot of people have helped along the way," Bishop says in a prepared statement.
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