Land money replenished | ParkRecord.com

Land money replenished

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

From left, Hadley Fuller, Wendy Cryan and Courtney Stern, part of the Yes OS 3 group that backed a $20 million open-space bond, pose at the McPolin Farm, Park City's most famous conservation purchase. Not pictured are others who helped the group. Grayson West/Park Record

Now City Hall must find $20 million worth of land to buy.

On Election Day, Park City voters, in an impressive endorsement of the local government’s conservation program, approved $20 million in land bonds, agreeing to increase property taxes in order to continue purchasing land.

Mayor Dana Williams, a longtime champion of the city’s conservation efforts, says he expects that the government will find land to purchase with the new money approved on Tuesday even as prices have increased in the area.

"I think the majority of the community has been overwhelmingly supportive of the purchases," he says about land bought with proceeds from two previous voter-authorized bonds.

He says he is confident that the city can negotiate for land within the city limits and along the entryways, where much of City Hall’s conservation efforts have traditionally been.

On Tuesday, 82.2 percent of the voters in Park City cast ballots in favor of the bond, about the same percent supporting the last open-space measure in the city, in 2002. Before that, 78 percent cast ‘Yea’ votes in 1998, the first conservation vote in the city. The previous two bonds were for $10 million.

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Williams says that deals for significant parcels are possible with the $20 million but he does not provide details. The government typically does not publicly discuss conservation deals for fear of tipping off others to the negotiations. But officials have recently lamented that City Hall has had difficulty negotiating deals because of the area’s hot real-estate market.

The mayor, though, suggests that the city could negotiate deals in which the government pays developers to reduce the number of units in a project, an arrangement that officials often call buying down density.

That would be a new strategy for City Hall’s use of bond monies. The funds from the previous bonds were used to obtain land, not reduce the amount of development on a parcel.

"There is a potential for that," he says. "I think that’s one viable use of the bond."

Williams indicates that there may be discussions about negotiating with the Sweeney family in that manner. The Sweeneys hold development rights to the controversial Treasure Hill project, which would be on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort, above the western edge of Old Town.

Lots of people who live on streets like Empire and Lowell avenues are leery of Treasure Hill and some have said they want City Hall to try to reduce the number of units at Treasure Hill by purchasing the rights.

The Sweeneys have said they are not interested in that sort of deal but there has not been public discussions regarding Treasure Hill recently.

The $20 million bond will cost someone owning a primary residence about $24.50 each year per each $100,000 that the residence is worth. Someone owning a home assessed at $400,000 would be charged an additional $98. Someone having a vacation home or commercial property will be charged $44 per $100,000. A vacation home or a commercial property assessed at $400,000 would be charged $176.

The extra charge will not be assessed until City Hall sells the bonds. Williams says he is unsure when the bonds will be sold but indicates that they likely will not be sold until City Hall is close to making a purchase. He anticipates that City Hall will probably soon hear from landowners about potential purchases and the government will revisit previous negotiations that did not result in deals.

He predicts that City Hall could finalize a deal using the bond revenues within one year.

The community sees City Hall’s open-space program as one of the greatest achievements of the city’s modern era. The supporters say the preserved lands provide places to hike, bicycle and cross-country ski and they are happy that the land remains undeveloped, providing rural mountain views Parkites and visitors enjoy.

In 1998, when the first conservation bond passed, City Hall was running out of funds to buy land from traditional sources, forcing the government to ask voters for the first $10 million.

Since then, the city has purchased more than 956 acres of land, including large tracts of Round Valley and the Richards Ranch, a prized, 20-acre parcel off S.R. 224 that cost about $1.6 million from the first bond.

But the city has generally had a tougher time negotiating recently as Park City’s real-estate market has enjoyed a post-Winter Olympic boom. The cost of land, officials say, is prohibitive.

Courtney Stern, the co-chair of Yes OS 3, a group that lobbied in favor of the ballot measure, predicts that the city will acquire prime land with the $20 million and says the win on Tuesday shows that Parkites "care about it, ultimately."

"It’s quality of life. It’s trails. It’s open space. It’s views and vistas," she says.

Stern says the city could find deals for land on the entryways, including parcels outside of the city’s limits, and what she describes as iconic land. However, she is pragmatic when discussing the acreage that the money could secure.

"Certainly, $20 million is not what it would have been in 1977 or 1984," she says.