Guest editorial: Midway, like Park City before it, faces a decision about open space
October 15, 2018
Nearly three decades ago a small park in my Old Town neighborhood was slated for commercial development and endorsed by the Park City Council. Energized citizens, including myself, organized, protested and defeated the proposed development. The Carl Winter School playing field, our "open space," was saved.
While government officials and Realtors resisted open space preservation, eventually the naysayers recognized the value of public lands and joined residents advocating for more open space. Protecting the Carl Winter School playing field next to Park City's future library started an open space chain reaction.
The following years Summit County residents saved more open land. The Osguthorpe dairy farm, Swaner parcel and adjacent cattle ranches, Hi-Ute and Toll Canyon, Bonanza Flats and miles of trails are lasting results. By rezoning, bonding and collaborating with nonprofits, private donors and government agencies, the community acted to conserve land rather than develop it all.
Now, it's Midway and Wasatch County's turn to vote for open space in November's special bond election.
Like a migrating bird, I was attracted to Midway's farmland and waterways when I moved to the valley 20 years ago. Our meadows and wetlands provide vital habitat for many birds, random deer, mother cows and wintering elk. Midway's open lands offer the rest of us solace, beauty, livelihoods and a bridge to rural history.
I have observed here a rare pair of whooping cranes and nesting osprey, shared stories with farmers working their fields and delighted at bald eagles fishing the Provo River. I eagerly listen for the incoming rattle of Sandhill cranes wading the grasslands near my home. The land connects us all and more of it must be saved.
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Private property near public land increases in value, a boon for the community's tax base. Preserved open space offers balance. Because residential growth doesn't pay its own way, dedicating open space offsets the increased cost of services resulting from expansive residential development. Tourism and recreation are enhanced, as are opportunities for learning about and understanding our natural world. Critically, open spaces provide view corridors of beauty and preserve wildlife habitat so animals and birds have a chance at survival, too.
Having lived more than half my life in both places, I understand the traditional rivalries between Wasatch and Summit counties. Older residents aren't particularly interested in new ideas from the "move-ins" like me. But Midway should look now to other western towns for instructive models in preserving our farmland and open space.
Residential growth alone does not pay for itself. It is disingenuous to argue, as some have, that balancing excessive residential development with open space preservation disproportionately increases taxes. It is simply untrue.
Continued high-density residential development, without a viable commercial tax base, will eventually cost Midway citizens more. Property tax increases for the additional maintenance, security and schools needed to meet the demands of new residents, estimated to reach 20,000 population within a few years, will eclipse the conservative tax calculated on the $5 million dollar open space bond. The estimate is $135.80 per year on a home valued at $500,000. Residents on fixed incomes will pay much less because their older homes are valued far less than the valley's new mini-mansions.
Arguments for preserving open space reach beyond economics. Midway's rural sense of place and unique beauty are vanishing under a sea of rooftops. We are hastily losing what we love most about living here.
The citizens of Midway, like our friends in Park City, have a chance to save what we value most. Midway's choice is simple. Do we want sandhill cranes or rooftops?
I am voting YES for open space and you should, too.
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