The Salt Lake County Council has decided that a proposed land swap for land along the Jordan River is a good deal despite tangled relationships with the developer.
To move the deal forward, the council has agreed to surplus three properties that could be traded to CW Management for 76 acres within Springview Farms, an upscale housing development in Bluffdale along the Jordan River. The three properties, which the county does not have any current plans to use, are in West Valley City, Kearns and Murray.
The deal has raised eyebrows because CW's principal owners include former county commissioner Brent Oversen and Chris McCandless, who donated $10,000 to Workman's 2000 campaign through his other company, Wasatch Pacific. Additionally, Mike Reberg, the husband of Workman cabinet member Leslie Reberg, is a consultant for Springview Farms.
Councilman Cortlund Ashton, who voted to surplus, said that he has studied the proposal very seriously and has found nothing that would make him oppose it. The land that the county would get is valuable for both environmental and recreational reasons, and the county should do what they can to acquire it. In this case, the developer has asked for about $1.7 million in land, while Ashton worried that a cash sale of the property could cost as much as $3 million.
"I wanted to find a reason not to do this, something that told me this wasn't a good deal for the public," Ashton said. "But every stone I turned over, everything was above board."
The reason to oppose it, Councilman Jim Bradley said, is because the land swap is "messy" and that the basic involvement of the well-connected developers would taint any deal, even if it was a good move. Instead, he urged the council to offer the developer money and hold the three properties for a later use as parks, recreation centers, or senior centers.
Bradley was joined in voting against the proposal by Councilors Steve Harmsen and Marv Hendrickson.
"My exclusive issue is I want to avoid any pretense of sleight-of-hand," Bradley said. "I don't want a deal that looks like a back-door deal."
Councilman Joe Hatch, who voted for the surplus, disputed the idea that the county should keep the properties simply because it is land, especially when they could acquire important land next to the river.
"I think it's absolutely necessary to surplus this property," Hatch said. "I do believe holding open space is important. These properties [that were surplused] have not been shown to have any open space value, but the land on the Jordan River has great open space value."