P.C. mulls third land bond
City Hall appears to again be eyeing the wallets and pocketbooks of Parkites as it tries to continue its heralded open-space program.
The Park City Council is mulling whether to ask voters in November to approve a third bond to purchase open space, according to Myles Rademan, City Hall’s Public Affairs director, who oversees the city’s conservation program.
The elected officials have not decided whether to put a ballot measure to voters in November but Rademan said the government plans to ask Parkites in an unscientific survey about their interest in voting on a bond in 2006.
Voters in Park City overwhelmingly approved $10 million bonds in 1998 and 2002. There is about $3 million left from the second bond, Rademan said. If another bond is passed, the city’s open-space coffers will be infused with cash that the government would need to complete a major purchase in the future.
"Open space is very popular in Park City," Rademan says. "Do people want more open space? Absolutely, we hear that all the time."
It is unclear when Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council will hold detailed discussions about an open-space bond. The city’s annual budget talks are scheduled to last through mid-June and it is likely that the City Council would not vote to put a bond on the ballot until after the budget is adopted. Rademan says that he plans to approach the elected officials in June regarding a bond.
"I believe they are generally supportive of looking at this," Rademan says about a ballot measure.
He says that the City Council must vote by August to put a bond measure on the November ballot.
The 1998 and 2002 bonds were structured similarly in that the government received voter authorization to sell a combined $20 million in bonds for open space. The voters agreed to raise their property taxes to finance the bonds.
Property owners will be paying off the first two bonds through 2019, with rates depending on whether a property is a primary residence, a vacation home or commercial land.
The City Council seated an open-space committee, which recommends purchases to the elected officials. The City Council has the authority to accept or reject the recommendations of the committee, called the Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee.
The City Council, after aggressively pursuing land purchases, especially in the 1990s, in 1998 saw that City Hall had a dwindling amount of money for open space. The bonds, the boosters have said, are the best method to ensure that the city’s open-space program continues.
City Hall’s open-space program is widely praised as one of the most successful in Utah and the 1998 bond was the first in the state. The city preceded the Statehouse in becoming a player in open-space preservation.
Locally, the supporters of City Hall’s open-space program say that by purchasing large tracts of land in and around Park City, the government has created a buffer from development at Kimball Junction and made Park City a more desirable place to live and visit.
With the bond revenues, the government has bought a diverse group of parcels, from sprawling pieces of Round Valley land to a small lot in Old Town. The government has secured a little more than 840 acres through the bond purchases.
The largest parcel, costing a little more than $5.5 million and purchased in 2001, encompasses 280 acres in Round Valley, a sprawling, hilly area northeast of Park Meadows. City Hall has vast open-space holdings in Round Valley, including other land purchased with bond revenues.
Other significant purchases using the bond revenues have included the Richards Ranch, about 20 acres off S.R. 224 at the northern entrance to the city, the westernmost stretch of the Rail Trail and 113 acres north of April Mountain.
But Rademan cautions that it could be difficult to negotiate deals for large swaths of land, even if a third bond is approved, because of rising real-estate prices.
"The reality is the purchasing value of $10 million is not as significant as it was," Rademan says.
He says that City Hall staffers may present the City Council with options of ballot measures valued at $10 million, $15 million and $20 million. Rademan says that City Hall may have negotiated purchases before Election Day and could publicize the land that the bond revenues would purchase prior to Parkites heading to the polls, a change from how the city has operated previously.
Rademan mentions parcels such as Gambel Oak and Red Maple, long sought by City Hall, as being of interest if another open-space bond passes.
Cheryl Fox, the executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy, a land trust in Summit County that oversees restrictions on more than 1,800 acres of open space, says that a bond is smart because there are few other options to preserve land.
"If they want it, that’s about the only way to get it," Fox says about a bond, noting that the Statehouse and Congress are not earmarking lots of money for open-space purchases in Utah.
She says that another bond could perhaps fund purchases at Quinn’s Junction, where developers are contemplating large projects.
"Money in the bank is a powerful tool for protecting open space," she says.
The mayor expects that the City Council will likely support asking voters to approve $10 million in November and predicts that voters would overwhelmingly approve such a bond.
"I think the town as a whole has seen there is a very positive benefit to the purchase," Williams says.
He adds that the city could purchase sough-after parcels but he refuses to identify them.
"There are some significant properties in and around the city we are in discussions with already," Williams says.
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