Summit County Council and Summit Land Conservancy at odds over Osguthorpe Farm purchase in the Basin
County Council offered $4 million toward acquisition
October 9, 2017
The Summit County Council and Summit Land Conservancy are at odds over the funding mechanism that will be used to purchase the Osguthorpe Farm on Old Ranch Road in the Snyderville Basin.
Last month, the Summit Land Conservancy announced that it had entered into an agreement with the Osguthorpe family for a $14.2 million conservation easement to prevent development at the farm someday. The land is located adjacent to Willow Creek Park.
Summit Land Conservancy has secured an $8.7 million federal grant that will be put toward the acquisition. The organization recently approached the County Council to ask if the county could help close the $5.5 million gap.
The County Council on Wednesday issued a statement after reportedly receiving several emails from the public encouraging the financial support.
“We think that the citizens should be allowed to discuss what benefits they want,” Cheryl Fox, executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy
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The county and the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District offered $4 million to help fund the transaction, according to the statement. The proposal required a perpetual easement for Nordic skiing on the farm during the winter months and perpetual easements around the perimeter for year-round public trails.
As part of the proposal, the county required the "resolution of some outstanding issues" with the Osguthorpes. The county also asked for additional road right-of-way and trail easements to "improve the Old Ranch Road corridor."
"To date, Summit Land Conservancy and the Osguthorpes have rejected the county's proposal," the statement read. "We, as your elected representatives, have an important duty to make sure that we receive good value for our residents, including recreational access to the properties we acquire. Our proposal to Summit Land Conservancy affects a very small percentage of Osguthorpes' properties around the perimeter, yet provides real value to our community.
"We hope that the Summit Land Conservancy and the Osguthorpes can see a way forward to make this a win-win for all parties concerned," it said.
Brad Jensen, a Basin resident who attended the meeting, told the County Council he viewed the farm as a "very important piece of property for the community."
"I think the highest and best use for the farm is as a farm," Jensen said. "It is the last large-parcel farm in the Basin. The agricultural business is very important to maintain, not only for open space, but the heritage of the farming community that existed here before we got on the map, so to speak, with our ski resorts. We all use it and we all benefit it."
Julian Castelli, who represents the Ranch Place Homeowner's Association, told the County Council there is "overwhelming support" for the initiative.
Sean Morgan, a Basin resident, said there is some ambiguity regarding the county's involvement in the acquisition. He asked the elected officials why the public was not involved in the discussions.
"The proposal you put forth to Summit Land affects the public," he said at the meeting. "Those are amenities that would then go to the public. If there is going to be a public amenity, using public money, why not present it to the public?"
County Council Chair Chris Robinson said the county's acquisitions of property are generally discussed in closed sessions. He said if an agreement is reached, it would be approved in open session. He did not indicate whether public input would be accepted.
"We have been asked to show our support," Robinson said. "To support it, we have prepared our statement, which talks about the big stuff, such as the money. We wanted to let the community know we are not disinterested. We made a significant offer and we remain willing participants in trying to find a reasonable way to protect it. We are prepared to move expeditiously to consummate a transaction with Summit Land. But, there are things that are very important to us and, to date, they have been rejected."
Cheryl Fox, who is the executive director of Summit Land Conservancy and was not at the meeting on Wednesday, said in an interview with <i>The Park Record</i> the organization has had a longstanding relationship with the county. She added, "We share the council's desire for a win-win solution."
"We have explained why their requests are in conflict with the federal funding," Fox said. "We are buying a conservation easement, but it has to stay as a farm. Removing that much land from agricultural production is not consistent with the federal dollars which require the preservation of agricultural uses.
The county asked for significant land to be dedicated to trails and a right-of-way, Fox said.
Last week, Summit Land Conservancy countered with a proposal to the county for a 10-foot-wide trail easement to permit year round, public, single-track access along the north and east perimeters, as well as a 10-foot setback into the farm on the Old Ranch Road side, according to a statement from Summit Land Conservancy.
"We thought that the county didn't value the Nordic use, we removed that portion from our offer, since we were now granting year round access along the perimeters," the statement read. "The county's letter suggests that Nordic skiing is, after all, a value the county wants, and so the family will have to consider if additional public access can be accommodated on their farm."
Fox said she would prefer to discuss the acquisition with the County Council in an open session.
"We're trying to balance the requirements of the major funding source with good, solid community benefits," Fox said. "We think that the citizens should be allowed to discuss what benefits they want."