The Salt Lake County Council declared its intention Tuesday to leave 80 acres of pristine foothill land as open space, in case North Salt Lake wins a court battle.

The move came just weeks after Salt Lake County voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to raise their property taxes to fund a $48 million open-space bond.

"When they voluntarily agreed to tax themselves, the voters of Salt Lake County said they cherish open space," Ashton said. "I think it is the will of our constituents that we maintain and not erode the open-space opportunities that are left."

A battle has been brewing for more than four years between North Salt Lake and Salt Lake City leaders. North Salt Lake owns 80 acres of land within Salt Lake City's borders. North Salt Lake wants to develop portions of the land, while the capital city wants to keep the foothills free from development.

North Salt Lake will go to trial in February to ask the court to disconnect the 80 acres from Salt Lake City. That would clear the way to possibly annex the land into North Salt Lake.

The county's decision Tuesday could thwart North Salt Lake's intention, however. The non-binding resolution says that if North Salt Lake wins in court and the land ends up in unincorporated Salt Lake County, the council would block any efforts by North Salt Lake to annex the land, and the council would keep the land zoned as open space.

The resolution will have no bearing on the upcoming trial, said Karl Hendrickson, the county council's attorney.

Ashton said North Salt Lake condemned the land approximately 50 years ago in an effort to protect its watershed.

But North Salt Lake Mayor Shanna Schaefermeyer said no matter what Salt Lake County residents think about open space, the council is violating the county's private-property rights.

"County residents said they like open space — they didn't say they liked that open space," Schaefermeyer said of the disputed 80 acres.

Other North Salt Lake leaders were upset because they believed the County Council didn't give them a fair shake in the process. City Manager Collin Wood said the city had no discussions with the council about the issue.

Representatives from the city, however, did speak to the full council at a public meeting in September.

Wood said the city is working with several developers on plans for the property. When pressed, he said the city has not yet made a decision on how much land would actually be covered with homes. But plans by a Bountiful developer obtained by the Deseret Morning News in April 2005 showed the city planned on including 25 acres of homes, and another 22 for a cemetery, with some left over as natural open space.

Plans are not set in stone, and are constantly changing, Wood said.

That worries Dave Buhler, the chairman of Salt Lake City Council, who along with his colleagues, wants to see the land preserved as open space.

"Once we lose control of that land, who knows what that would be?" Buhler said, noting that North Salt Lake leaders could do "whatever they want" if the disputed land is annexed into the Davis County city. "We think it should remain natural open space."

North Salt Lake's Schaefermeyer said development would only cover a portion of the land, and the city would preserve the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

But Salt Lake City officials have repeatedly said that developing even a portion of the land would ruin the entire area. The majority of the Salt Lake County Council agreed Tuesday, and voted 6-2 to declare its intentions of zoning the disputed land as open space.

"It would be a sin of enormous proportions if we allowed that 80 acres to be developed," Councilman Joe Hatch said. "It's been open space, and it should continue to be open space."

David Wilde, who ran on a platform of preserving open space and was reelected last month, and Marv Hendrickson voted against the non-binding resolution.

North Salt Lake leaders insist the land shouldn't be within Salt Lake City's borders because Salt Lake emergency services are unable to effectively provide services to the area. There are no roads leading from Utah's capital to the 80 acres in dispute.

Buhler said that problem is easily solved by entering into an interlocal agreement with North Salt Lake — a move that is not uncommon in local government.


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com