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Salt Lake creates open space trust fund

Ordinance dictates how city will spend $5 million bond

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More of Salt Lake City's open space is about to be preserved.

A year after city voters endorsed a $5 million bond to protect open space, the City Council has approved a unique municipal ordinance establishing a trust fund to spend those dollars.

Advocates say the long process was worth the wait and maintain Salt Lake City now has one of the best open space funds in the country. And with Salt Lake City's fund ready to go, open space advocates want to take their experience to other Wasatch Front cities so similar funds can operate in smaller municipalities.

"I really want to get out and help other communities write similar ordinances," said Helen Peters, chairwoman of Mayor Rocky Anderson's Open Space Committee.

The $5 million will be divvied up by a new Open Space Land Advisory Board, which will recommend purchases to the City Council for final approval. The new board is directed to use the $5 million as leverage cash to partner with private donors, trusts and foundations.

For instance, if a piece of open space costs $1 million, the board will look for private donors to come up with some of that total. The city's fund would pitch in the remainder.

Open space advocate Rich Reese said one county in Montana has been able to leverage its bond dollars at a $3-to-$1 clip. With a $10 million bond, county officials were able to gain $40 million of open space, he said.

Also, the committee is directed to find other sources of revenue that could add dollars to the fund.

The ordinance took a while to put together because city leaders didn't know exactly how the bond money should be spent. Were soccer fields, baseball diamonds and off-leash dog parks open space? City leaders and open space advocates wondered.

"Something that was very unusual about Salt Lake City," Reese said, "the voters passed the bond with virtually no understanding of how you define open space."

But after months of grappling, City Council members Jill Remington Love and Dale Lambert, who pushed for the fund, agreed on a definition of open space.

That definition allows fund money to be used to purchase traditional non-developed spaces, like foothill lands and stream corridors, but also allows the money to be spent on low-use recreational open space like trails, parkways and small neighborhood parks with playgrounds. Things like sports fields and dog parks won't be allowed.

The fund will make a difference for the average Salt Lake City resident, advocates say.

"People should begin to notice more open space and more park," Robin Carbaugh said. "This open space bond process gives the average citizen the greatest opportunity to have a say in how open space is protected in the city."

Once a piece of land is purchased, there are stringent rules in place that make it difficult to ever use the land for anything other than open space. Also, the new ordinance directs the board to establish an inventory and map of all open space land in Salt Lake City that could be preserved through the fund.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com