In the middle of developed, built-out downtown Salt Lake City, Mayor Rocky Anderson castigated North Salt Lake leaders Wednesday for seeking to develop 30 acres of foothill open space.
But Anderson's jabs weren't the only ones delivered at the rally. North Salt Lake leaders, including Mayor Kay Briggs, showed up to lob their own barbs at Salt Lake City's outspoken mayor.
Anderson is trying to condemn roughly 12 acres of a 100-acre parcel on a bench that North Salt Lake owns but falls within Salt Lake boundaries. Of the 100 acres, 80 are within Salt Lake City's boundaries.
Condemning the land essentially invokes eminent domain and would force the dispute before a judge, who would set the value of the land that Salt Lake City then would try to purchase. Anderson wants Salt Lake City to preserve the area as open space but still allow North Salt Lake to retain decades-old water rights.
It is unclear what would happen to the land not included in Anderson's petition, which was to be filed in 3rd District Court. It also is unclear what money Salt Lake City would use to pay for the space if a judge ruled in its favor.
"Stewardship of this land does not mean taking publicly owned land and selling it to the highest bidder, thus forever denying the public the opportunity to experience it in its natural state," Anderson said. "Protecting and caring for this land means leaving it as pristine open space, and that is what we intend to do."
Anderson's message of open space for all was muffled at times by the jeers of North Salt Lake advocates, including Briggs, who wants Salt Lake City's mayor to stop meddling in what he sees as the rightful development of property.
"It's my back yard, and I'll tell you one thing we will do our best to preserve it," Briggs said. "We won't turn it into what they have turned (the Avenues) into. That's our promise. Our promise is open space. We will deal with it, and we will justifiably make it beautiful."
Money from selling land on the bench above the two cities estimated between $4.5 million and $6 million would pad North Salt Lake's coffers for a fire station, a connection to the Jordan River Parkway trail, and a golf course bond debt.
"We'd like to be able to raise a little money," said Len Arave, a planner for North Salt Lake who attended Wednesday's rally. "I think if you go to our meetings, you'll find almost entirely everyone is for open space. But there's the practicality of life. If you want to be able to do these things for the city, you're got to be able to raise a little bit."
Of the 100 acres on the hill, North Salt Lake wants 20 for houses and 10 for a cemetery. The rest, it says, would remain developed open space with trails and a park. The city has already applied for funds through the state's LeRay McAllister Fund to help pay for preservation.
But developing even a portion of the 100 acres would ruin the entire area, Salt Lake officials have repeatedly said.
"To preserve our open spaces is a victory of long-term spiritual and quality-of-life values over short-term material greed," Anderson said.
Dave Buhler, who sits on the Salt Lake City Council, said Anderson's move toward eminent domain did not come with the consent of the City Council.
"If he has that power to act unilaterally without council support, I'm going to talk to my colleagues to see whether we should tighten up our ordinances so he has to consult us before he invokes eminent domain," Buhler said.
He wants to save the open space but is wary that the undetermined cost could balloon. "If it's $10 million or $6 million or $5 million or $3 million, where would that come from? The voters passed an open space bond for $5 million, but I don't think that it would be my intention that we would spend all of it here."
North Salt Lake residents point to luxury homes built in Salt Lake City's foothills as proof that Salt Lake City wants open space only when convenient.
"When they can gain by developing property in their own city, they allow it," said Wilford Cannon, who protested Anderson's use of eminent domain.
Were the property in question in Salt Lake City, there would have been little fuss over development, he insisted.The Salt Lake City Council voted at the end of May to deny a disconnect request from North Salt Lake. Briggs said the obvious next step for North Salt Lake is court, although he's concerned whether his city of 10,000 can afford a lengthy litigation process against Salt Lake City.