What are the benefits of an Open Space Bond?
Environmental benefits of an Open Space Bond can include air and water quality improvement, limit traffic, wildlife habitat protection, historical and agricultural preservation. Open space saves the City money as well as promotes tourism and recreation, which have economic benefits and can help keep future taxes down. There are also mental and emotional benefits of open space.
Who chooses the land to buy?
The Midway City Open Space Committee, in conjunction with public input, will determine the criteria for purchasing conservation easements on land in Midway. (We have been told they are close to putting forth a binding criteria plan, so for now we don’t have the actual specifics….we are anxiously awaiting that criteria as well!) However, general criteria may include protecting important agricultural land, wetlands, hot pots, public access, public trail connectivity, or view corridors. If a landowner owns land that meets the criteria and voluntarily chooses to preserve it through the sale of the land or the sale of a conservation easement, then the City may purchase the land or a conservation easement on the land. The City and landowner must agree to the terms of the easement and the purchase before the sale can be completed. Public input will always be a part of the process.
Who will own the land?
In the case of a conservation easement, the landowner will continue to own the land. In the case of a sale, the City will own the land. Conservation easements allow the City to stretch its open space dollars much farther so the City will primarily opt to purchase conservation easements.
Who decides what land to buy?
The City Council, after input from the public and the Midway Open Space Committee, will make the ultimate decision on what to buy. Landowners cannot be forced to sell their land or a conservation easement . The City cannot be forced to buy a conservation easement or land. This is entirely voluntary between the City and landowners without the threat of eminent domain. Experts discourage identifying specific land parcels before a bond. This can increase the price, or the property may no longer be available, which wastes the bond effort. However, specific criteria can and should be decided upon.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently protects the land from some or all future development. Utah law provides landowners with a choice of easements coinciding with the conservation resources in need of protection on the property. The forms of conservation easements include: agricultural, historical, ecological, public recreational, or scenic. A conservation easement may protect one or all of the aforementioned values. A conservation easement may be purchased by a conservation organization at its full fair market value, purchased at a fraction of its fair market value, or donated by the landowner to a qualifying conservation organization, while potentially providing the landowners with tax incentives. Landowners retain many of their rights, including the right to own and use the land, sell it and pass it on to their heirs.
Who manages the land after the City buys a conservation easement?
In the case of conservation easements used on productive agricultural land, the landowner will continue to manage the land. An accredited land trust will hold the easement and visit the land annually to make sure the land is being managed in accordance with the easement terms. In the case of open space, the land trust will manage the land. Funds from the bond will not be used for land management but only for acquisition of conservation easements or land.
Will the land be permanently protected?
Yes. A conservation easement is the only way to permanently protect land from development. If the City buys land outright instead of buying a conservation easement, then the City may have the ability to sell that land later for any reason unless they put it under a conservation easement.
Why Bond now?
Growth pressure means land in Midway is rapidly being developed. Much land has already been platted into subdivisions. Once this precious resource is gone, it’s gone forever. Interest rates are still very low, but creeping up, making it an ideal time for a bond.
Why Support A Bond In Addition To Other Preservation Tools?
A bond is a crucial tool to help preserve Midway’s rural heritage because the bond dollars can be stretched through matching grants. By stretching the bond dollar, the City can preserve more land for farming and other uses or work with landowners who choose to lower density on their land. On average, a bond is matched 3-4 times its value.
Why are there two open space bonds?
There is a $10M bond for Wasatch County which will benefit lands in the County. There has not been a written agreement of how much of that would go to Midway City to achieve their goal of preserving Midway’s rural heritage. As a result, Midway City is allowing its citizens to vote on a $5M Midway City bond to be used only in Midway.
Why should I pay for someone else to preserve their land?
Open space protects air quality, mitigates traffic, increases food security, provides beauty, and adds to people’s mental and physical well being. It also adds tourist revenue to cities and counties so preserving open space that increases tourism can actually keep taxes from increasing in the future. Tax increases are inevitable, so we can either plan ahead and pay to preserve valuable open space or pay later when this land gets sold for developments that cost municipalities. We all pay for new developments because primary home developments cost cities and counties a fair amount of money. They require increased funding for schools, roads, police and fire. Open space doesn’t cost the cities and counties money. So you can either pay now and preserve open space or pay in a few years when that land gets developed. Cows don’t go to school.
Will conserved land now be open to the public?
Every easement is unique. It is up to the landowner and what they agree upon and what is deemed appropriate. Some easements will allow for public access, but others will not. Generally, if land is conserved for agricultural purposes, public access is not necessary. The entity entrusted with holding the conservation easement will maintain annual monitoring of the land to ensure the terms of the conservation easement remain intact.
Do I still own the land if I do a conservation easement?
Yes. The property owner is not selling the land, but instead selling or donating certain rights associated with the property. Depending on the easement, there will be different rights that the landowner will agree to give up—often times being the right to develop. The easement holder, either a private organization or a public agency, will hold the right to enforce the agreed upon regulations.
What will the land be used for?
The land must benefit the public good in some way by protecting conservation values. Farming and ranching are usually permitted. Development is almost always limited. Surface mining is almost always off-limits. For example, an easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the building of additional agricultural structures. An easement may apply to only a portion of the property, and may not require public access.
Why should a farmer keep his land?
Protection of private land is essential in protecting properties with conservation values. Stewardship of the land and protection from development are essential in preserving the land that we love. There can be lower maintenance costs associated with easements and ownership rights remain in place for the landowner. There can be no pressure from external entities to develop the land. The landowner will be able to maintain agricultural traditions, benefit from tax incentives and provide an open space legacy beyond a lifetime.
I don’t want the market value of my home to increase, will the bond increase it even more?
Market values in Midway & Wasatch County are on the rise even without significant open land preservation. What studies do show is that communities with protected open space weather economic downturns more stably. So while the bond won’t necessarily increase market values, it will help to guard against market drops.
Can I sell my land?
Yes. However, the conservation easement is intended for conservation in perpetuity, meaning that the agreed upon easement will continue in effect on the property if the property is sold.
What happens if I stop farming?
Depending on the easement, agriculture is a conservation value that is often times maintained through an easement. If agriculture is one of the conservation values essential to the easement, the trust, through annual visits, must ensure that the values are being upheld.
What happens if the money never gets spent?
An open space bond is similar to a home equity loan. Taxpayers will not pay anything until some or all of the bond money is spent on qualifying purchases of open space or conservation easements. If the money never gets spent, taxpayers pay nothing.
Are Matching Dollars Available?
The funds from an Open Space Bond can be multiplied through agricultural and other grants and matching donations. This makes the bond dollar stretch in ways that other funds can’t.
What About People Who Can’t Afford A Tax Increase?
Midway City or other entities could explore the possibility of creating an Open Space Tax Relief Fund after a bond passes that any individual could choose to voluntarily support. This fund could support grants to pay or supplement tax increases for citizens with fixed incomes or who otherwise could not afford the tax increase. Wasatch County also has a tax relief program. If you are on a fixed income, contact the County Assessor’s office to see if you qualify.