Summit County Council chooses route for the Silver Creek connection, opting to keep Bitner Ranch whole
Capping more than a decade of on-again, off-again deliberation, the Summit County Council has chosen a route to connect Bitner Ranch Road and Silver Creek Road that avoids bisecting the historic ranch.
A road is necessary, officials have long said, to provide a second emergency access route to Silver Creek’s 500 homes, to connect growing neighborhoods and to offer trails for bikers, joggers and equestrians.
A series of public hearings stretching back years has drawn passionate input from Silver Creek residents, most of whom advocated for an option that placed the road farther from their homes.
A County Council meeting Wednesday included two final options: a frontage road that would run parallel to Interstate 80 until heading due west across the Bitner Ranch, separating the ranch’s main buildings from the family’s open land area to the north; and an option resembling one originally suggested by the Bitner family that would come off Silver Creek Road about 1,100 feet to the north of the frontage road and head west while curving around property lines, cutting across what is now what councilors called a bucolic meadow.
Only County Council Chair Doug Clyde voted for the frontage road, with the other four councilors supporting the “Church Street” option.
Councilors indicated that there was little difference between the options in terms of project costs, emergency response times, safety of residents and projected ongoing maintenance costs.
It appeared that the strongest motivator for the elected officials was in preserving the Bitner Ranch as open space and avoiding a costly, contentious land acquisition process. An attorney representing the Bitners said the family would require the county to seize the land for the frontage road through eminent domain and if that were to happen, the family would likely develop the rest of the land rather than continue to ranch it.
The Bitners are a fourth-generation ranching family who have worked the land north of what is now Interstate 80 for more than 100 years, members of the family have said. The family’s attorney told the council that if the frontage road option were chosen, it would devastate the ranch and preclude future preservation of the land.
“(That option would) effectively force development of that ranch over time, as a practical matter,” attorney Ted Barnes said.
Silver Creek residents who advocated for the frontage road option in previous meetings have claimed it would affect the area’s wildlife and water quality and would present safety concerns for children waiting at a nearby bus stop.
At a November public hearing, a lawyer claiming to represent several area landowners who support the frontage road distributed a 45-page letter to councilors that pointed to the likelihood of a lawsuit whichever way the issue is settled and advised the County Council to side with public comments of the county’s safety personnel.
Safety providers like Park City Fire District officials have indicated a slight preference for the frontage road option but have said that either road would be an improvement over the current situation. Councilors indicated the response time discrepancy of about two minutes was negligible and that the impact would depend on where in Silver Creek the emergency happened.
About 30 people came to Wednesday’s County Council meeting and seven of them spoke. The lawyer representing the frontage road option was not among the speakers.
Clyde, in explaining his vote, appeared to be swayed by traffic data. He expressed a desire to capture more vehicle traffic — projections indicated about one-third more cars would use the frontage road — and said that some of the problems cited as downsides to the frontage road had not been fully explored.
A pinch point that could impede trails could be alleviated through negotiations with the Utah Department of Transportation, for example, and Clyde said it remains to be seen whether the Bitner Ranch could be preserved as open space even with a road running through it.
“I believe that’s a negotiation that hasn’t happened yet,” Clyde said. “Where would you rather have that traffic — through a bucolic meadow or would you rather have it pushed up next to an existing interstate?”
Both options were projected to cost roughly $2.5 million, though Clyde said that number will likely be closer to $3.5 million.
That estimate does not include land acquisition costs, and the Church Street option requires purchasing an 80-foot right of way from the southern end of the Mountain Life Church property and crossing land belonging to the Peck family as well as the Bitners.
While the Bitners’ representative said the family would work with the county on that option, allowing surveying work immediately and asking only to be fairly compensated for the land, the evangelical church has indicated a desire to develop more of its land, a proposition Clyde said would be less likely if it loses 80 feet of its property. And the Church Street option appears to have to cut almost directly across the Pecks’ 40 acres.
Summit County’s Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Dave Thomas said the county has previously spoken to representatives of the Peck family in the decade or so during which the issue has been discussed.
Derrick Radke, the county’s Public Works director, said now that a route option has been chosen, the department will conduct surveying work and coordinate with landowners to fine-tune the alignment. Once the plan is roughly 80% settled, Radke said, it would come back to the County Council for approval.
In explaining his vote, Councilor Roger Armstrong said the frontage road option may appear to be a win for protecting open space, but he worried that it might force a much bigger loss in the future if the Bitners were to develop the more than 200 acres of open space abutting their ranch.
“If the other option is to develop that land, put houses out there, rather than maintain it as open space, … I feel like I dont have a choice other than the Church (Street) option,” Armstrong said.
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It was an important decision since the rest of the talks will be heavily influenced by the processing option selected by the Planning Commission on Wednesday.