A public hearing on Summit County’s $50 million open space bond is scheduled for Wednesday
Money could be used to preserve East Side farmland from development
The Summit County Council last month voted to put a $50 million open space bond on November’s ballot and is hoping to hear input on the idea at a public hearing Wednesday evening.
There is a history in Summit County of borrowing tens of millions of dollars to preserve land, but those efforts have been constrained to the Snyderville Basin and Park City. This is the first time such a question will be asked of all county voters, including those who live on the more politically conservative East Side.
Wednesday’s hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Coalville, at the Ledges Event Center. Another hearing is scheduled to be held the following Wednesday at the Sheldon Richins County Services Building near Kimball Junction.
Officials have said the proceeds from this bond, if passed, would likely be used to a greater degree on the East Side than in the Snyderville Basin, largely to prevent farmland from being turned into housing developments.
Summit County Councilor Roger Armstrong said he was looking forward to hearing what East Side residents think of the plan.
“I think we can expect significant growth to be pushing sooner, perhaps, than we expected, into eastern Summit County, as we see landowners there faced with choices of selling their ranches to realize the economic equity that they’ve got in those properties,” he said. “And this provides an additional tool that may help some of those families retain ownership of those ranches and farms and still protect those areas so that we can better deal with the development that’s likely coming to those areas.”
Armstrong acknowledges the $50 million price tag could shock some.
According to county documents, the tax increase on a $650,000 primary residence in the first year of the bond’s impact would be $45 to $50.
He said the money would be used to leverage funds from other groups, including state and federal agencies and nonprofits.
The money could be used to buy open space and conservation easements, as well as construct recreational amenities and environmental and wildlife mitigation measures, according to a county report.
“The focus of the bond is land acquisition,” the report states.
The report indicates the council wants to have the ability to finance infrastructure like trails that commonly accompanies open space.
Armstrong and other councilors have identified open spaces in the Kamas Valley, including a prominent range of grassland referred to as the Kamas Meadow, as well as stretches along the Weber River, as potential areas for protection.
The costliest local land conservation bond, which Park City voters passed in 2018, was for $48 million, the vast majority of which was used to finance City Hall’s acquisition of the Treasure land overlooking Old Town. County councilors have said they do not have a similarly large project in mind.
The county’s bond proceeds could be used to purchase conservation easements, a legal arrangement in which a landowner sells the future development rights to their land. The landowner is generally allowed to keep using the land as it had been used — to maintain farming operations, for example — but the deals include provisions that the land not be further developed.
Armstrong indicated such arrangements allow landowners to access the value of their land, which is otherwise most easily accessed by selling to someone who might develop it, while retaining the ability to live there and to conserve it.
“If you’re a rancher and the choice is, I can get 80% of the value out of my property today, for example, with a conservation easement — that may be high or low — but 80% of my property today, and I get to continue to ranch my property so I don’t have those same kind of (development) pressures, or I can sell my property for 100% to developers and it fundamentally, potentially, changes the look and character of the community I’ve been living in: Ultimately, that will be the decision for some of the folks that might want to participate and make properties available for preservation,” Armstrong said.
He indicated the timing of the bond was appropriate given the pandemic-fueled increases in land values and development pressures, but reiterated it wasn’t up to the council to decide.
“The voters are going to tell us what they want,” he said. “It’s yes or no, it’s their decision.”
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