Feds consider handing over land | ParkRecord.com

Feds consider handing over land

Still coveting a swath of open space stretching south of April Mountain, City Hall wants Congress to pass legislation that would transfer the ground to the local government.

Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Orrin Hatch, both Republicans from Utah, introduced bills that would hand over the land, known as Gambel Oak, to Park City, a deal that the city has previously supported. The legislation has been considered before but it stalled.

Under the bill, the federal Bureau of Land Management would also cede a parcel known as the White Acre piece. Combined the Gambel Oak and White Acre ground covers about 110 acres. A popular trail traverses the Gambel Oak land.

Park City has agreed to purchase mining claims that have previously complicated progress on the Gambel Oak parcel but a price tag is not known.

Park City Mayor Dana Williams says the deal advances City Hall’s open-space efforts and says it is rare that such a swath of land in the city is available. With nearby open space, Williams says, a large tract of land will be conserved.

"It puts about 220 acres in the middle of the city into a permanently protected easement," Williams says, calling the ground "right smack in the middle of town."

According to Bishop and Hatch, the bureau in the 1970s determined that it was suitable to transfer the parcels to others. Officials have long used the 1970s study as partial reasoning for transferring the land.

In a prepared statement, Bishop notes the protection of the land and the ability for City Hall to manage the open space as benefits of the legislation.

" . . . Control and access for these lands need to be in the hands of those closest to it, the leaders and citizens of the city," Bishop says in the statement, commending the efforts of City Hall officials in the long-running talks.

Meanwhile, Hatch, also in a prepared statement, says the deal would keep Park City competitive with other mountain resorts. The land is not located near one of the city’s resorts but the boosters see protecting the ground from development as advancing Park City’s tourism efforts.

"This bill gives Parkites the local control they want to plan their own community for the future," Hatch says. "We don’t want to lose skiers or other tourists to Vail or Aspen because we didn’t do enough for Park City."

A statement from the two notes the land is "surrounded by development" and "preserving them as open space preserves the unique view shed and leaves the land open for wildlife habitat and recreation." The legislation requires City Hall keep the land as open space but allows the local government to build trails and install signs and utilities on the ground.

On Feb. 8, Hatch told senators City Hall, not the bureau, should control the land since it is within the city.

"I believe having public lands interspersed with private lands within a city’s boundary creates unnecessary management headaches, and the land conveyance to Park City will help bring cohesion to Park City’s overall effort to manage their city’s growth for the benefit of its citizens," he said in the Senate.

Park City’s open-space program is renown and voters in 2006 authorized another $20 million for conservation purchases. A Gambel Oak deal would be rare in that parcels that large are infrequently purchased in the city. Usually tracts of that size are purchased along the city’s entryways, especially S.R. 248.

The Gambel Oak land has been especially intriguing since the late 1990s, when the Air Force eyed the ground as a potential location for a military hotel. Officials in Park City were perturbed with that idea and, since then, there have been several rounds of negotiations about preserving the parcel as open space, resulting in the legislation.

After abandoning its plans on Gambel Oak, the Air Force considered other land for the hotel. Recently there have been discussions by a developer about building a hotel for the military on another parcel, along the S.R. 248 entryway. Park City officials are concerned about those prospects and early this week traveled to Washington, D.C., for talks.

The Park City Police Department on Feb. 9 received a complaint of a transient camp in the vicinity of Gambel Oak and the Aerie but it is unclear whether the camp, which an officer later found off Aerie Drive, was on the land covered by the legislation. An officer snowshoed to the site and discovered that it had been abandoned, the police say.

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