Park City panel recommends library field remain undeveloped
August 2, 2016
A City Hall panel recently indicated it wants further restrictions placed on the field outside the Park City Library meant to keep the greenspace undeveloped, an important step as an activist group continues to press officials for some sort of protection at the site.
The Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee, which plays a role in many City Hall land decisions, cast a vote in favor of protecting the field through an instrument known as a preservation easement. Such an easement would preserve the land for recreational purposes or community uses as well as ensure public access. It is a different sort of instrument than a conservation easement, which is often used to tightly protect City Hall's open space purchases.
The field outside the library is currently protected from development through zoning measures, but the underlying zoning could be changed someday to allow development. The supporters of tighter restrictions want the prospects of development eliminated through an easement.
Heinrich Deters, the trails and open space manager at City Hall, said the Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee signaled it wanted the field left "as is." The panel also indicated it desires that a third party, such as a land-preservation organization, hold a preservation easement. That would be similar to arrangements involving other City Hall acreage protected by a third party holding an easement.
Deters said the recommendation will be presented to Mayor Jack Thomas and the Park City Council by late fall. The elected officials are not bound by the Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee's recommendation. Deters said the panel wanted the entire field included in an easement. City Hall would likely seek proposals from land organizations interested in holding an easement if the City Council opts to pursue further protections.
"There is strong, strong, strong support for this," Deters said as he described the Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee vote.
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The field outside the library for years has been a popular place for Park City people to play catch, hang out or bring their dogs to run. Park City leaders have designated much of the field as an off-leash area. Some people who live in nearby Old Town see the field as essentially acting as a community backyard.
There has been special interest in the field over the past year, a result of a concept to develop work force or otherwise affordable housing on part of the greenspace. The concept was crafted during a City Hall-organized design studio that delved into issues along the lower Park Avenue corridor.
The prospect of part of the field someday being developed was widely criticized and Park City leaders indicated a project would not be pursued. The discussions, though, led to the efforts to further protect the field from development and the launch of an activist group called Save the Library Field.
The founder of the group, Ed Parigian, praised the Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee vote, saying the panel wants land valuable as greenspace protected. He said the land will be especially important as City Hall moves ahead with an aggressive housing plan along the lower Park Avenue corridor.
"This will not be built on. Everything will be built around it," Parigian said, calling the protection of the field outside the library "relief from the growth."
It is not clear what sort of discussion will be held once the recommendation is put to the elected officials. While there is likely support for protecting the field from development, there could be disagreement about the method and the tightness of any restrictions. It seems that the elected officials could address topics like the use of the field during special events and the possibility of unknown impacts decades from now if the land is protected from development in perpetuity.
Cheryl Fox, a member of the Citizens Open Space Advisory Committee and a longtime conservation activist, said in an interview there have been two development ideas involving the field since the 1990s – the recent one that considered housing and an earlier one that envisioned a convention center prior to the building becoming a library.
"Whenever we want something new, we look for flat, vacant land," Fox said.
She said an easement like the one recommended by the panel is preferred since the underlying zoning could be altered by a future set of Park City leaders.
"Zoning is only as permanent as another Planning Commission meeting. Zoning is not permanent," Fox said, adding, "It's in some ways to give the community a sense of permanence."
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