Summit County Council Considers $50 Million Voter Referendum For Open Space
Between now and August 19, Summit County Council members will consider a $50 million bond referendum to purchase and conserve open space.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said that as price and development pressures continue to increase on the east side of the county, the council started to explore ways to preserve open space and agricultural land.
"We don't have large sums of money available to us anymore, and we've exhausted the bonds related to basin rec or largely exhausted those. A lot of the money that was available through promontory property transfers is either done or that development's original property transfers are done."
Fisher said they don't have specific property in mind, although areas along the Weber River and agricultural lands in the Kamas Valley have attracted speculation from developers.
He said $50 million would give them leverage to access other federal, state, and private funds.
"I guess normally you'd look at $50 million and our property values, and it doesn't seem like that much money. It is a lot of money. I mean, we've watched, different property purchases by Park City that have been in the 10's of millions of dollars. But, in order to leverage those dollars, you have to have some base dollars, to begin with. And so, if we're going to continue to follow the track of some conservation, over time, at some point the community needs to figure out where to get those base dollars in order to leverage."
In 2016, Park City approved $25 million to save Bonanza Flat from a luxury hotel and resort development. In 2018, another $48 million bond was voter-approved to preserve the Treasure Hill slope above Old Town from a large-scale development approved in the 1980s. However, Fisher said the proposed $50 million bond would give the county future flexibility rather than preventing a specific development project. He said purchasing open space is opportunity-based, and having immediate access to the money is needed.
"We have two different open space and agricultural preservation groups--one for the Snyderville Basin and one for the east side of the county, that would also be involved, plus our planning commissions. When opportunities present themselves, you've got to be ready, and in some cases, because we're talking about leveraging other forms of money, we've got to have that money upfront in order to be able to prove that we can leverage."
He acknowledged a General Obligation Bond for open space conservation might compete with a Park City School bond—which is likely to appear on the ballot in November.
Since 1995, Snyderville Basin voters have approved more than $60 million in open space conservation and recreation bonds, and Park City residents have approved more than $100 million.