Conservation deals remain elusive |

Conservation deals remain elusive

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

City Hall admits that it has been unable to strike any conservation deals as Election Day looms and voters prepare to cast ballots on an open-space bond.

The local government had wanted to dangle potential land purchases in front of Parkites before they head to the polls.

When officials last summer started mulling whether to put a conservation bond on the ballot, the third in Park City’s history, they said that the government by November could have negotiated some deals. Had that been the case, the voters would have known some of the parcels that could be bought if they pass the bond.

Park City voters on Election Day will decide whether to pass a $20 million open-space bond, the largest such bond in Park City’s history.

City Hall’s Public Affairs director, Myles Rademan, who leads the local government’s conservation efforts, says, in the summer, he had hoped that deals would have been nearly finalized. Instead, negotiations are continuing but City Hall is not close enough to a deal allowing officials to publicize land that could be purchased, he says.

"I was hoping that we could but that hasn’t happened," Rademan says.

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Rademan refuses to provide details about the ongoing talks. He says that some of the negotiations involve longtime Parkites, however. Rademan says he is cautious not to publicize land that interests City Hall. Doing so, he says, could start a bidding war with someone else desiring the land.

"I never like to bring attention to who we’re talking to. There’s 1,000 members of the Board of Realtors," Rademan says.

Park City voters in 1998 and 2002 overwhelmingly passed $10 million conservation bonds, with each receiving at least 78 percent of the votes. On Election Day, the government wants Parkites to pass the 2006 bond, an aggressive ballot measure that the government says is needed to ensure that City Hall’s heralded conservation program continues.

Parkites generally support the city’s conservation efforts and there has been little controversy about the current ballot measure. Parkites are happy that the government has preserved huge tracts of land, both before the first bond passed since the voter-authorized monies were spent. The supporters see the land as a buffer between Park City and the Snyderville Basin and say that they like the trails on some of the parcels that have been purchased.

City Hall has about $2.8 million left from the 2002 bond but the government has earmarked the remaining funds to pay for two deals, both involving the federal government, that have been widely publicized.

The city wants to purchase a parcel known as Gambel Oak, about 90 acres stretching between lower Deer Valley and the Aerie, and the Red Maple parcel, along the S.R. 248 entryway. Both of the parcels have been long sought after and discussions regarding them have been ongoing for some time.

Park City property owners will be paying off the first two bonds in installments through 2019, with rates differing between those owning primary residences and those with vacation homes or commercial property.

If the voters pass the 2006 bond, they will be authorizing a tax increase of $24.50 per each $100,000 of assessed value for someone owning a primary residence. Someone with a vacation home or commercial property would pay an extra $44.00 for each $100,000 of assessed value.

City Hall says that the first two conservation bonds paid for about 956 acres of land. The acreage includes high-profile parcels such as the Richards Ranch along the S.R. 224 entryway, large tracts in Round Valley and the westernmost portion of the Rail Trail.

Courtney Stern, a co-chair of Yes Os, an advocacy group supporting the conservation bond, is not concerned that City Hall is unable to announce what parcels could be purchased if the bond passes. She says that landowners could command higher prices if word was out that the government was interested.

"The hesitation to put things down on a definite black and white is there isn’t a deal with the city," she says.

Stern says there are high-profile, iconic parcels that could be purchased if the bond passes but she does not provide details. She also says that City Hall’s record of purchasing land that Parkites enjoy makes it less worrisome that no parcels have been identified before voters head to the polls. She expects that the bond will pass, citing the success of the first two ballot measures.

"For me, it’s not an inhibitor," Stern says.