Summit County: 2019’s top five stories include opposite land uses, a school district controversy and an impactful contract change
The year started with a community-wide push to conserve land in the Snyderville Basin and ended with a controversial development approval on the East Side.
Opposing land uses bracket our list of the top five Summit County stories of 2019, with two governmental reorganization stories in the middle, and a school district controversy rounding out the group.
It’s not often a service contract change makes these kind of waves, but when Summit County switched its behavioral health provider in September, officials said it was the start of a new era in how mental heath care and substance abuse would be addressed in the area.
And speaking of rare, adding an entirely new ski resort doesn’t happen every day, much less when it’s spearheaded by a New York billionaire working with the U.S. military.
Amid a year of record-breaking development countywide, these five stories rose to the top.
5. Osguthorpe Farm conservation easement
In late March, the Summit Land Conservancy secured a conservation easement on the 158-acre Osguthorpe Farm, an effort two years in the making that cost millions of dollars and required extensive community support.
The Osguthorpe family has owned property in Park City since the 1940s, and the farm was recognized in the Snyderville Basin General Plan as the last heritage ranch on Old Ranch Road.
The nonprofit conservancy entered into an agreement with the Osguthorpe family in 2017 to purchase a conservation easement to preserve the farm. The development rights for the farm were pegged at $17.8 million, and the family lowered the price by nearly $4 million and retained rights to the house on the property.
Summit Land Conservancy secured an $8.8 million federal grant, Summit County contributed $500,000 and more than 1,100 people contributed over $4.5 million toward the transaction.
Community groups popped up to help save the farm and the fundraising efforts even included the contents of a 7-year-old’s piggy bank.
The transaction was the most visible of what was a record-breaking year for the Summit Land Conservancy. The nonprofit secured seven conservation easements in 2019 — the most ever — protecting about 1,200 acres around Summit County and increasing the total acreage it has preserved to more than 6,800.
4. Behavioral health changeover
Since 1996, Summit County contracted with one firm that employed mental health care professionals to handle behavioral health services to those in the county without insurance or who receive Medicaid.
But starting this fall, the county changed providers to the University of Utah, which, instead of hiring providers directly, contracts with them on a network model, drastically increasing the number of providers and the available options for people who need care.
Instead of wait times nearing six months for a counseling appointment, they have dropped to “virtually nothing,” according to Aaron Newman, Summit County’s behavioral health director.
Behavioral health is a term that encompasses both mental health and substance abuse issues, and the county is mandated by state law to provide a detailed list of services to Medicaid recipients and those without insurance, Newman said.
The idea is to eventually expand the program to provide a central portal for anyone needing mental health care or substance abuse help, regardless of their insurance status.
Someone could call a phone number and enter into a system that would link them with a provider.
Another facet of the program is that every school in Summit County now has access to an on-site clinical mental health counselor who is budgeted to visit the campus for four hours each week, the program’s manager Nelson Clayton said.
The counselors have been helpful for students and teachers alike, program coordinators and counselors said.
Summit County acts as a pass-through for state and federal funds, and the program is coming at no increased cost to the county, Newman said.
3. MIDA takes over
The land surrounding the Jordanelle Reservoir will likely look very different in five years, with thousands of units of density already entitled and a new ski resort planned just across U.S. 40.
In August, developers detailed their plans for the Mayflower Mountain Resort, with 400 skiable acres spread over 1,000 acres of terrain, plans for three hotels, 1,560 residential units and 250,000 square feet of commercial space.
It sits on Deer Valley’s doorstep and the land was long contemplated as an expansion of that resort, but there is no deal in place for Deer Valley to operate Mayflower.
Plans call for five ski lifts, two magic carpet conveyors and a potential connecting lift to Deer Valley, but developer Gary Barnett, a New Yorker who started in the diamond industry, stressed in August those plans were tentative.
The resort’s financing is in place largely thanks to the involvement of the Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA).
“Wouldn’t be here today without MIDA, plain and simple,” Barnett said in August.
MIDA entered into the deal ostensibly to secure a replacement for a small, dozen-room U.S. Air Force chateau that was shuttered in 2002.
MIDA now controls thousands of acres around the Jordanelle, and the chateau’s replacement has morphed into a 100-room block of rooms in a contemplated 615,000-square-foot hotel. And this fall, the Hideout Town Council voted to partially join the MIDA project zone.
While MIDA is not empowered to levy taxes, it can collect and distribute them. As hotels, businesses and homes start cropping up, the land will increase in value, generating more tax revenue. MIDA will keep 75 percent of that increased tax revenue in the project area for 25 years, using it to pay for capital improvement projects like roads and ski lifts. The other 25 percent will be dispersed to the various taxing jurisdictions, like the Wasatch County School District.
While MIDA has land-use authority in the project zone, Hideout Mayor Phil Rubin said MIDA would “immediately turn it over to communities that are impacted” by its presence.
An interlocal agreement between MIDA and Wasatch County indicates MIDA desires to contract with the county for certain land-use reviews, like some kinds of permitting.
Wasatch County is currently reviewing a building permit from Extell for a hotel on the site.
2. Welcoming Schools
A seemingly routine teacher training session lasted about 2.5 hours on an August afternoon, but its effects reverberated through the Park City school community online, in person and in the editorial pages of The Park Record for months.
The issue has included threats of legal action and is still not resolved.
A Utah State Board of Education equity and advocacy specialist was asked to come to Trailside Elementary School and gave a training entitled “Embracing Family Diversity” to about 50 staff members. She called it an anti-bullying program that promotes equity and inclusiveness.
But the next month, an anonymous group called Stop Welcoming Schools sent a 2,300-word email to members of the Trailside community calling for parents to resist what it referred to as “an LGBTQ indoctrination program and sex education program” for kids as young as 4.
The group retained a Sandy law firm that sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Park City School District, demanding, among other things, “propaganda” posters be removed from the schools and the program no longer be implemented.
The district refused the demands, noting in a return letter that there was a contemplated second training session in March, and that it had not yet decided whether to go forward with it.
A group of parents who support the program, or at least oppose the anonymous group Stop Welcoming Schools, organized a community meeting in October that drew about 75 people to a local coffee shop.
Many supported the idea of an anti-bullying program but advocated selecting a less controversial one.
Welcoming Schools is owned by the Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as a civil rights organization working to achieve LGBTQ equality.
The cease-and-desist letter sent on behalf of Stop Welcoming Schools was also signed by the chief counsel of California-based Pacific Justice Institute, which describes itself as a nonprofit legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties, according to its website.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights group, has designated the Pacific Justice Institute an anti-LGBTQ hate group.
In 2018, Coalville annexed 1,700 acres into its borders, effectively doubling the size of the rural East Side community.
This December, its City Council approved a controversial golf-course based second-home community for the site after hours of public input against the plan.
Opponents worry the development threatens Coalville’s identity and will forever change the feel of the small town.
Proponents say the development will yield millions of dollars for the community’s coffers annually, as 80% of the homes are to be taxed at the secondary-home rate.
A citizen group filed an application for a referendum a week after the vote passed, opening the door for the approval to be reversed. If that were the case, Mayor Trever Johnson has said the developers, which own the land, already have the right to put nearly 300 units on the site.
And the mayor said if that were to happen, it is likely the community benefits of open trails and a publicly accessible golf course would be off the table.
The proposal calls for 570 residential units and 130 nightly rentals on the 1,525-acre project site with a dense central village core surrounded by more sprawling, larger properties at the perimeter. There would be 27 holes of golf, a lodge, a spa, a village plaza, miles of trails, a splash pad and a small commercial zone.
Signs dotted the community opposing the plan, including one across from City Hall that read, in part, “Woah-hali.”
The particulars of the deal will be hammered out in coming months as the sides negotiate a development agreement.
The elements of the plan that drew the most pushback, other than the perceived threat to the community’s identity, were how it would provide water, emergency entry and exit routes and the full financial impact on the city.
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