Summit County Council strongly urged to contribute to farm preservation
Several community members showed up at the Summit County Council meeting last week during the public comment period, strongly urging the Council to make a financial contribution to help preserve the Osguthorpe Farm on Old Ranch Road.
The Summit Land Conservancy is trying to raise $3.5 million before March to secure a conservation easement for the 158-acre property. About $2 million has already been collected through private donations, including a $500,000 matching grant from private donor Jennifer Speers last week.
In September, the Summit Land Conservancy announced it had entered into an agreement with the Osguthorpe family to purchase a $14.2 million conservation easement. The land trust secured an $8.8 million federal grant from a Farm Bill program that will be put toward the acquisition.
Summit County offered $4 million toward the acquisition, but asked for recreation access to the property as part of the contribution. Fox has said the terms would have violated the requirements of the federal grant. County Council members have said they are interested in preserving the property and are working with the Summit Land Conservancy to reach a deal. However, Council members have also emphasized that recreational opportunities at the property are an important consideration if they are to contribute taxpayer money to the effort.
Julian Castelli, president of the Ranch Place neighborhood homeowner’s association and one of the founders of Defenders of the Ranch, accused the County Council of “dragging their feet” at the meeting. He added, “If you want to get this done, you could have.” Defenders of the Ranch was created to help raise money and awareness about the acquisition.
“All of us are very worried,” he said. “I was heartened to hear you guys are supportive of the deal, but I’ve seen nothing in the last four months that you are wanting to get a deal done.”
Hundreds of people have made donations, and more than 5,400 people have signed an online petition on Change.org encouraging the preservation of the farm, Castelli said.
“That makes me more confused as to why this hasn’t happened,” he said. “We have a tremendous opportunity here and it’s not just me. It’s not just my neighbors. There is a very strong public desire to save this, and I am confused why this deal has gone nowhere.”
Some people questioned why the County Council can’t reach a compromise with the Summit Land Conservancy and Osguthorpe family to make a smaller donation than what was originally offered, suggesting a $1 or $2 million option.
Resident Debbi Scoggan said she has thought about the Council’s offer for the last several months and has reached the conclusion that the Council’s vision for the property is not the same as hers.
“I believe the Council’s vision for the 160 acres is suburban and my vision, as well 5,200 others, is a rural vision,” she said. “I have to go on the record to try and convince you guys to see we need to have this heritage piece of property.”
Several people said the community deserves transparency in a transaction that involves taxpayers’ money.
County Councilor Chris Robinson said in an interview with The Park Record on Friday the county continues to actively engage in negotiations with the Summit Land Conservancy. He said the Council made a fair proposal and has every intention of staying at the table.
“We are acting in the community’s best interest and you need to trust us,” he said. “I think it very rare that five people from diverse backgrounds elected to the Council would be unanimous in their support of the direction we are taking.”
Robinson refused to discuss specific details of the negotiations, but said “there is some progress being made.” He said property acquisition is not the subject for “public clamor nor for the court of public opinion.” The County Council, as allowed by Utah law, discusses property acquisition in closed session.
“It is one of the few things that is rightfully done between the buyer and the seller,” he said. “It appears the citizens want this land to be purchased at all costs no matter what. The five people that have been elected and who come from different backgrounds are unanimous that it is the correct approach, so please trust us and be patient. We won’t give you a blow by blow anymore.”
Cheryl Fox, executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy, said the public is “really afraid” to lose the open space. She said she understands that funding sources have restraints, but still hopes a deal can be made.
“I do think it would be shame to lose it,” she said in a recent interview. “I understand everyone wants a good value for their money and others understand that, but we are also under the gun the longer you hold out.”
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.