City tries to balance uses
Park City Municipal Corporation would like to protect McPolin Farm, but the city also says that there are a lot of users out there that want different things, according to Park City Public Affairs Director Myles Rademan. He recognizes why some would want a conservation easement, but from a logistics point of view, from city staff’s standpoint, he says, it creates problems.
That does not mean, however, that the city is thinking of changing the Farm’s uses.
"I’ve gotten some calls, and people still think we have subversive plans for the Farm," said Councilwoman Candy Erickson, who added that the city’s intention for Wednesday night’s McPolin Farm meeting was strictly for public feedback and information. Rademan said the Farm meeting was an update and a chance for the public to give input, though, in part, the meeting was prompted by calls from the Summit Land Conservancy, an organization that would like to see a conservation easement on the 50 acres surrounding Park City’s iconic white Barn on State Road 224.
Currently McPolin Farm is deed-restricted — designated as recreational open space, according to Rademan. The Farm is also on the National Register of Historic Places and 23 acres of its wetlands are included in a conservation program with the federal government, he said. The city allows for 12 conditional use permits a year for the property for council-approved benefits, concerts and events, with a maximum capacity of 150 people. Events use the 400-square-foot farmhouse and other outbuildings for events, but the 7,458 square-foot barn is closed to the public, Rademan says. The barn has been permanently stabilized with cables, but at minimum, Rademan estimates that $1.5 million in renovations would be necessary to make it safe enough to enter. Any change to the use of the property requires a four-out-five council member vote and 60 percent approval by voters, Rademan says.
Summit Land Conservancy Development Director Cheryl Fox argues that if the city really intends to protect the land for minimal use, however, they need to put a conservation easement on the land otherwise there are no guarantees. In the future, governments change and people change, and deed-restrictions like zoning or conditional use permits cannot ensure that the land use will remain the same.
Like Rademan, Fox sees the Farm as an important space for visitors and for residents.
"I think it’s the ultimate icon for Park City. It’s what you see when you come into town and it lets you say, ‘OK, I’ve arrived. I’m here," Fox explained. "It encourages people to relax and realize that they’re somewhere special and that’s invaluable."
Part of the charm of the land, she observes, is that it creates a habitat for sand hill cranes, fox and elk to roam.
Fox agrees that since the land was purchased in 1990 by the city, the public should decide on what happens to the Farm. However, deed restrictions are insufficient protection, Fox says, and there are examples of areas in Summit County that were once protected, and are now developed, or in the process of possibly being developed.
"There’s an example in Oakley where a family had 30 acres and promised to build five houses, and save the rest as a pasture. After the family sold the pasture, the buyer asked to build 30 units, and when the city rejected that proposal, the buyer came back with 20," she explained. "And I can tell you that when that buyer comes back with 15 units, the city is going to feel sorry for him and grant him those units."
A conservation easement is an agreement between a landowner and a government agency or nonprofit organization that permanently limits development of the land. Even if an owner sells the land or passes it on to his or her heirs, the conservation easement remains in effect. Deed restrictions cannot limit uses or development of property like a conservation easement.
Summit County Land Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust, which helps to create a permanent legal document on all the baseline characteristics of a piece of land, and once that document is accepted as a conservation easement, the land trust ensures the property continues to be preserved by touring the property on an annual basis. The nonprofit protects nearly 2,000 acres of Summit County’s land with conservation easements.
Rademan noted that the possibility of a conservation easement has come up previously, and some council members are very interested in the idea of putting a third-party watchdog on all or most of the Farm to ensure that it remains open.
Members of Park City’s Historical Society and council members Jim Hier and Candy Erickson were among the 20-some who attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Charlie Sturges, former owner of White Pine Touring, spoke on behalf of those who might like to see more recreational uses for the Farm, namely, cross-country skiers.
"I didn’t really have a stand to take [at the meeting] As a skier, though, it’s always nice to incorporate more kilometers of track, and the Farm is one of those areas that has some potential," he told The Park Record.
For 12 years, White Pine has maintained a 4.5-mile loop at the Farm, which is part of the 20 kilometers the touring center grooms in Park City, Sturges explained.
By comparison, Aspen has 70 kilometers of track that skiers can use for free, he notes.
"In Utah, we are under-skied as far as cross-country skiing goes. We have less track in the entire state than Sun Valley does in its county," he claims.
Rademan says the next time Park City discusses the Farm with the public, it will be on one of council’s meeting agendas.
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Park City officials are expected to present information about upcoming work on the Treasure acreage designed to guard against a wildfire, as well as a series of other City Hall projects and programs, at an open house that is scheduled next week.