Thousands of acres of land recently annexed into Heber City could be part of a conservation easement. The city might team up with Summit Land Conservancy to ensure that the open space is protected forever.
Last year, Heber City annexed the 8,000 acre Sorenson Property just north of the city boundaries. There are 5,700 approved units on the property to be built over the next 40 years. The annexation agreement saved 5,000 acres as public open space.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, the city and developer considered a third party conservation easement agreement with Summit Land Conservancy.
Rather than a sometimes temporary development agreement, Conservancy Executive Director Cheryl Fox said a conservation easement will be a permanent contract.
"So we've seen other situations where we've relied on development agreements to protect open space," Fox said. "And that is a shaky protection, just to put it mildly, because development agreements can be renegotiated or overturned or taken to court. But the summit Land Conservancy, we feel like what we're doing in this situation is coming in and basically ensuring the public benefit of this big development."
The city could start out with 2,500 acres under the easement, running through 2025, with the other 2,500 acres added at a later date. But no decision was made during Tuesday’s council meeting.
Councilmember Rachel Kahler told KPCW there were a lot of “what ifs” discussed during the meeting.
"A lot of the discussion was over the land owners being the HOA of the residents that live in that area," Kahler said. "And of course, none of this has been built out. This is all future planning with the Sorenson group and their developer."
If the land is protected under a conservation easement, she said the HOA would have to manage the property without getting to collect any tax dollars to pay for it.
Despite any hang ups during the meeting, she said the council is moving towards securing the easement.
"But I think it's a good base, it's a good next step," she said. "What we're trying to do is make sure that the city will not be liable for any injuries or accidents that could occur in this open space."
The next city council meeting is scheduled for June 15.