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Preserve North Salt Lake open space, naturally

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Like so many cities, North Salt Lake needs revenue to retire bonds and build essential buildings such as a fire station. As such, the city is contemplating permitting residential development on roughly 20 acres of about 100 acres of foothill open space above the gravel pits east of Beck Street. Some 50 acres would be set aside for open space and 10 acres would be used for a park or cemetery.

The city owns 20 acres within its city boundaries, but the remaining 80 acres of land, owned by North Salt Lake, are within Salt Lake City boundaries. The two cities are divided over the use of the the land, with the Salt Lake City Council voting last week to direct city staff to create a new "natural open space" zoning designation. If the council took the next step to zone the disputed 80 acres under the new designation, it would forbid any development there.

North Salt Lake officials decry the move as an unconstitutional "taking" of property value. North Salt Lake Mayor Kay Briggs alleged that the vote of the Salt Lake City Council was politically motivated, remarking that four council members are up for re-election in a city that prizes natural open-space preservation. Briggs also charges that Salt Lake officials are hypocritical because the city has benefitted financially from the hillside development it has permitted in Salt Lake but it wants to stifle development in neighboring North Salt Lake.

If this land were privately owned, Salt Lake City would be hard-pressed to justify placing such a broad limitation on its development. But this land is owned by the residents of North Salt Lake and under the control of Salt Lake City. As such, a strong argument can be made as to the best and highest use for this land. Open-space protection is, obviously, the best option.

North Salt Lake, like all cities, needs the revenue that developing this untouched land would provide. But in a historical sense, that would be short-term gain. Preserving this land as open space is an investment in future generations because developed land is rarely returned to a natural state. A long-range view is needed.

Briggs' observation that so many cities along the Wasatch Front have benefitted handsomely for permitting development along the east benches of their respective cities is valid. But as bench development becomes nearly seamless from Ogden to Provo, it's time that city councils put a halt to the practice.

In this case, Salt Lake City's proposed zoning designation of "natural open space" is a recognition that many municipal planning and legislative bodies have gone too far in permitting foothill development. As Salt Lake Council chairman Dale Lambert explains, "This is a place where we have to draw the line."

It is hoped that North Salt Lake remains open to the idea of selling the land to Salt Lake City so it can preserve it as open space. Now that the Salt Lake Council has taken the bold step to establish a "natural open space" zone and will likely go ahead with such a designation for the North Salt Lake land, it is incumbent upon the council to assemble public and private resources to obtain this land and preserve it in perpetuity.