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Developers have withdrawn a request that Bountiful approve a controversial land-swap proposal targeting a beloved slice of national forest land, but city leaders intend to hold a special meeting on the matter as planned Tuesday.
Ron Crapo owns 160 undeveloped acres in the foothills north of Mueller Park and had proposed exchanging it for 154 acres of public land near the border with Centerville that includes the Lions Club firing range just above Bountiful's Twin Hollow neighborhood. In closed-door meetings this fall, Crapo and partner Jaren Davis sought an endorsement from the City Council.
Citing the intense opposition that has arisen since the proposal became public at a council meeting last month, Davis and Crapo told Bountiful Mayor Randy Lewis last week they are no longer seeking the city's support, according City Manager Gary Hill.
The move doesn't mean the proposed swap is dead, since city officials have no authority over the trade. The developers could still petition the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to authorize a trade, or ask Congressman Chris Stewart to run legislation ordering it. But they previously stated they would seek the trade only with the city's blessing. If no letter of support was forthcoming, they said, they would initiate plans to build on their 160 acres rising above the Maple Hills subdivision.
Meanwhile, a neighborhood group that formed to fight the swap intends to continue advocating against future development of the land popular for hiking, cycling and watching the sunset. The land is zoned for single-family residential development.
"We want them to rezone it as watershed or a new designation called 'never develop this' or whatever nice thing they want to call it," said neighbor Andrea Thomas, co-founder of the group Twin Hollow United.
The group expects to attend Tuesday's 7 p.m. meeting at Millcreek Junior High School, 245 E. 1000 South in Bountiful.
"I anticipate the council will make a definitive decision about that piece of land," Hill said.
Davis had promised that he and Crapo would build only on the 50 or so acres below the existing Bonneville Shoreline Trail and that public access to the trail and the 100 acres above it would be preserved.
But this plan has drawn objections from other sources besides the neighbors who hike there.
Running across the parcel is a federal pipeline the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District uses to deliver water as far south as North Salt Lake.
"The District and the [U.S. Bureau of Reclamation] are concerned that this land swap will bring in development near the aqueduct that will increase the chances of failure," wrote district engineer Briant Jacobs to city officials in an Oct. 27 email.
This 66-inch-diameter concrete pipe was built decades ago and has outlived its design life. It "will need to be upgraded or replaced in the future," Jacobs wrote. "If the easement is encumbered with development, this endeavor will be more difficult and could be impossible, depending on the proximity of future development."
Centerville, the city bordering Bountiful to the north, owns 160 acres adjacent to the national forest land Crapo and Davis want to acquire. It hopes to keep it largely undeveloped for open space and recreation. These goals would be undermined if the neighboring national forest in Bountiful became a subdivision, according to Centerville Mayor Paul Cutler.
"We believe the impact on our community has not been adequately evaluated and is potentially detrimental. If you are inclined as the governing body of Bountiful City to support this land exchange, we respectfully request you postpone the decision and engage with us in a thoughtful, thorough review of how this may affect the future of adjacent land within Centerville's city limits," Cutler wrote Bountiful leaders in a Nov. 12 letter.
The Crapo-Davis proposal is not the first time this land has been the target of a proposed swap. Under the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act, Bountiful was to acquire the land in exchange for an inholding it owns in the national forest.
The idea was for the city to obtain the gun range, which operates on Forest Service land under short-term agreements, along with some of the open land between the range and Twin Hollow. But city leaders abandoned the deal when they discovered that the land carries significant environmental liabilities associated with all the lead ammunition that could contaminate the ground, according to Hill.
In a Sept. 23 memo to the Bountiful City Council, Hill's staff strongly advised the council against endorsing the latest swap proposal and to hold further discussions in public sessions.
Endorsing the deal would signal that the city is willing to permit development, which may not be appropriate. The average slope exceeds 25 percent, foothill open space is in high demand and noise from the shooting range is already a simmering issue that boils over politically, according to Hill's memo.
"Putting houses even closer to the shooting range will create a continual complaint problem for the citizens and the city," Hill's staff wrote.