County $50M open space bond passes with 2-to-1 margin

Officials hope to use the money to stave off development pressure on the East Side

Summit County voters on Election Day overwhelmingly approved a $50 million bond measure to fund open space acquisitions. Summit County officials have said they will aim to use some of the funds to preserve land in the Kamas Valley, shown.
David Jackson/Park Record

Summit County voters overwhelmingly supported the county’s proposal to borrow $50 million to preserve open space, according to preliminary election results. It is the largest ever total for a bond of its kind in the Park City area.

Though the results have not been finalized, the margin is sizable, with 8,381 votes for the bond and 3,848 against.

Officials have said the money will be spent to protect land on the East Side of the county from development and have targeted the Kamas Valley and Weber River corridor.

Summit County Council Chair Glenn Wright said the bond gives the county the opportunity to preserve land and supports residents’ desire to control growth.

“In terms of the importance, the growth, especially on the East Side of the county, what we’re going to see especially over the next 10 or 20 years is going to be incredible,” he said. “And there’s just some really critical, sensitive lands over on the East Side of the county: the meadows in Kamas, the banks of the Weber River, all the tributaries. We are the protectors of the watershed for the entire Wasatch Front.”

Cheryl Fox, who leads the Summit Land Conservancy, said she was “thrilled” with the result.

“We already have landowners lined up hoping to do something if this bond passed,” Fox said. “I think it’ll keep the Summit Land Conservancy busy.”

The conservancy is a nonprofit that works to preserve land from development, and is anticipated to be a key partner in future deals. The nonprofit often uses a legal arrangement called a conservation easement, in which a landowner is compensated for their land’s future development rights, which are then extinguished.

County officials have said the money from the bond will be used to preserve open space by working with landowners willing to create conservation easements or by purchasing land outright. They have also spoken of the importance of leveraging bond funds with money from other state and federal sources.

Wednesday’s results show a sizable majority of those who voted support conserving land. The results may change as late-arriving ballots trickle in through the mail. They will be counted if they are postmarked on or before Nov. 1, the day before Election Day.

Wright called the turnout impressive, pointing out that residents in unincorporated Summit County did not have municipal elections to bring them to the polls.

The measure is the largest such approval in the county’s history, rivaled in size locally only by the $48 million open space bond Park City voters approved in 2018. That money was mostly used to purchase the property involved in the Treasure land deal.

Unlike in that election, when voters had a clear choice between land conservation and a development above Old Town, Summit County officials have not identified specific projects they would pursue, though they have identified the Kamas Meadow as a key target for preservation.

The patchwork of privately held grassland runs northward from Francis through South Summit and contains what officials have called vital wetlands. It is the subject of increasing development pressure, including a recently unveiled proposal to build 1,600 homes on a portion of that land.

Voters have given the county the ability to bond for up to $50 million, but it is not certain the amount will be that high. Officials have said low interest rates might make the timing advantageous to borrow money.

Officials have estimated the tax impact on a $715,000 primary residence at $40 annually, and $73 per year on a business or secondary residence of the same value.

While open space bonds have historically been supported by Summit County voters, this was the first time East Side voters have weighed in. In 2014, Snyderville Basin residents voted to spend $25 million on recreation and open space, the previous highest level from a county entity.

Wright said preserving the Kamas Meadow was a shared priority between Summit County and the three South Summit cities.

“If l could look into my crystal ball and look out 10 years into the future and we have essentially bought up all of the development rights in the meadows along the banks of Weber River, and along with some critical areas in the West Side of the county, then it will have been a success,” he said. “$50 million sounds like a lot of money, but it can go fast.”

Summit County

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