Springdale is a town divided.
Not that there are feuding Hatfields and McCoys looking to shed blood. Instead, long-time friends who go to church together each Sunday and serve together in community affairs are finding themselves on opposite sides of an increasingly heated controversy.At issue is a proposed 18-hole public golf course to be built along the Virgin River that cuts through the heart of the community. The city wants to build the golf course on land owned by about 17 families.
Those that haven't been willing to either donate their land or sell it to the city have had, or will have, their property condemned.
All of which has divided the community: Those who believe the golf course and accompanying private development will bring economic prosperity to the town; and those who believe the development will destroy the rural character of the town - the very reason many of the retirees moved to picturesque Springdale in the first place.
"I chose this place because it was a piece of heaven," said Burt Chamberlain, a Springdale resident opposed to the golf course. "Most people came here for the same reasons. They didn't come here to make money or have a great social life."
But others, including elected city officials, say the town is in desperate economic straits and that a golf course along the route to famed Zion National Park would boost tourism and provide much-needed jobs.
"The goal was to turn a six-month economy into a 12-month economy," said former Congressman Dan Marriott, who has invested heavily in a resort project to be built alongside the public golf course. "It was something to benefit the entire community, as well as the investors."
The dispute has divided the community almost down the middle, Chamberlain says. And the fact the town is pushing forward with condemnations has further angered residents and divided the city.
"It's immoral to take someone's land for someone else to play on and for someone else to make money off of," Chamberlain said.
Marriott claims the opponents are a small group of five or six land owners, some of whom are opposed to a golf course under any conditions and some of whom are asking far more than fair market value for their property.
"There's not very many who are complaining," Marriott said.
Marriott will be meeting with land owners in the next month for more negotiations, hoping "cooler heads will prevail" and a "peace accord" can be reached with land owners.
Marriott went into the project believing that Springdale residents would "gift" land to the city for a public golf course. He and other investors, using public money, would then build the golf course for the city and would then develop a 100-room resort on private land around the public golf course.
The golf course would be open to the public; the resort would be private.
But for the resort to work, there has to be a golf course, and there's no way private investors were going to put a million dollars for a golf course that would be owned and operated by Springdale. "If it's a public golf course, then it should be built with public funds," Marriott said.
Springdale agreed and went to the Community Impact Board for funding. The town received a $500,000 grant and a $1 million loan - $1.5 million for the $2.5 million project.
Marriott so far has been unable to interest investors in making up the $1 million needed to complete the public golf course. So the city went back to the CIB earlier this week for more funding and was denied.
All of which has thrown a monkey wrench into Marriott's plans for a public golf course-private resort development.
"We could still have a nine-hole course owned by the city and maybe have a nine-hole private course owned by us and operate them together," he said, mulling over his options.
But there are legal questions about such an arrangement that has investors scared.
Neither Springdale nor Marriott wants anything to do with a private golf course. Not only would it be financially unprofitable for the developers, but it would probably not result in as big an economic boon to the community.
And if it were private, the developers would have no legal powers to condemn property from unwilling land owners - something the town has already done on several occasions. Those condemnations have led to howls of protest and have put Marriott in the uncharacteristic role of the villain.
Marriott has even been accused of improper political influence and wrongdoing, which has Marriott upset.
"Originally, the property for the golf course was to be gifted by the citizens," he said. "Now it has to be purchased. That's where the CIB money is going."
In fact, if private land owners had agreed to donate the land to the city, Springdale would have enough CIB money to complete the golf course without the additional $1 million.
"The more we have to pay for property, the less feasible it becomes," Marriott said. "And right now we're paying up the nose."