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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Trouble in Eden - Ogden Valley Land Trust Puts Property Up For Sale

This is one of two related articles we will run this morning regarding some Patio Springs / Wolf Creek resident's concerns and allegations against the Ogden Valley Land Trusts decision to sell a piece of property.
Due to the importance of the allegations, we will run in its entirety an article published in the Standard Examiner on May 21, 2014.
Here is the article:
EDEN — When Ken and Judy Crandall started building their dream home in Eden about seven years ago, they had no idea their backyard would become part to another subdivision since the land was owned by an open-space preservation organization.
About a month ago the non-profit Ogden Valley Land Trust put the property up for sale. It hopes to sell the 2.5-acre property and subdivide it into seven .35-acre lots for homes.
“I think it's a bait and switch, that's what it sounds like to me,” Ken Crandall said.
The retired couple bought the property with the understanding it would remain open space.
"That was one of the appeals for it."
He figured since Ogden Valley Land Trust owned the property and if anyone would sell it for development, they would be the last ones.
"That's in their charter, what they are trying to do is preserve open space and it sounds like they are doing just the opposite and making open space have homes on it."
Another homeowner, Ron Wilson moved in just before the land trust was donated to OVLT 2006. As a part-time resident in Eden he enjoys the view of a variety of wildlife including cranes in the air and deer rustling through the brush from his backyard, all of which he feels would be destroyed by a new subdivision.
"The Ogden Valley Land Trust has done a slight of hand here, for their own purposes, but it doesn't make me feel better," Wilson said.
A few days ago Wilson saw a listing for the land in question on a real estate site, but he figured it had to be a mistake. 
"When I moved here I was told that would always be open space and that no one could build there, " said property owner Ron Wilson pointing to the land up for sale behind him.
Wolf Creek Properties donated three parcels of land in the Patio Springs area to OVLT as a tax deduction when it was going bankrupt in 2006, but it was not ever part of the actual subdivision. However, according to court records it appears the Patio Springs HOA was managing the trust properties. Two of the three parcels of land have permanent conservation easements on them. The one that doesn’t is the one being sold that sits to the west of Eagle Avenue (4600 East) in Eden.
County records indicate OVLT only owns three properties in the entire county -- all three are adjacent or in Patio Springs subdivision and were donated. The other land they put conservation easements on for a tax break are still owned by original property owners.
The purpose of the trust is to buy and keep open space open for the public. It is also meant to put permanent restrictions on the future use of some or all of a property in order to protect scenic, wildlife or other resources. But some residents have already been sued for planting trees and native grasses to the area.
All of the homeowners the Standard-Examiner spoke to Tuesday said this was the first they heard of the property for sale. Some are saying it is underhanded for a charitable organization to be using donated land this way.
In the fall of 2014, Patio Springs subdivision met with OVLT board members to find alternatives to constructing a path along homeowners’ property lines. The proposal was rejected by OVLT. This year OVLT continues its road base path project which, when completed, will provide public access to the backyards of a number of homeowners.
Patio Springs Subdivision HOA treasurer Tina Young said OVLT has other motives in selling the property.
“It is completely out of revenge,” Young told the Standard-Examiner on Tuesday. “It goes against everything they are founded upon … and they are out there destroying things.”
Young said OVLT has claimed they are being “forced” to put in the pathway, in order to uphold the conservation easement because landowners have encroached on their property in the past.
Young said there are 110 lots in the HOA and only three were taken to court for something as frivolous as planting native trees and plants on open space. The construction of a pathway can’t be anything more than a revenge tactic, she says.
According to court records, the nonprofit took several homeowners to court over the land dispute issue, and lost each time.
In 2009, attorney Zane Froerer represented the OVLT in suing two homeowners for encroaching on the open space land by planting trees. Froerer is also a board member of the nonprofit.
In 2006, a conservation easement was put on the properties adjacent to homeowners. The court case states the homeowners put in two poplar trees, grass, a fence and other improvements in the late ‘90s and completed all improvements prior to 2006. The court decided the trust brought its “claims in bad faith.” This became a catalyst for future emotional confrontations and disputes between the OVLT and new homeowners developing their property.
Froerer filed an appeal in 2012 to the Utah State Supreme Court.
In 2010, OVLT brought another property rights case against a homeowner to civil court, but lost again. The dispute was over the planting of quaking aspens, pine and fruit trees, and other native grasses to the area. The case was dismissed with prejudice in 2012, barring the trust from refiling the case.
Ogden Valley Land Trust chair Jody Smith and board member Zane Froerer did not return phone messages or emails requesting comment.
Weber County Planning director Shaun Wilkerson said once the current property is subdivided into individual lots, it will be heard before the planning commission in a public meeting.
“We will hand out notice to property owners within 500 feet (of the property) and (property owners) will have the opportunity to express opinion,” Wilkerson said.
According to federal tax forms for the nonprofit, OVLT has only about $156,800 in net assets or fund balances as of its 2012 filing. It had just over $9,000 in excess money generated over the previous year’s balance. Over the years it has received thousands of dollars in contributions, grants, gifts and donations.
Young says she feels for “people who have bought homes hoping that (the area for sale) would remain open-space.
“They are now going to have another subdivision in their backyard,” Young said. “I think everybody here is quite upset about that.”
Residents don’t want a public pathway in their backyard either.
“No one wants this pathway,” said Young, also a resident of Patio Springs. “We want them to uphold the standard that they were founded upon by leaving this land in its natural state for generations to come.”

Contact reporter Cimaron Neugebauer 801-625-4231 or Follow him on Twitter at @CimaronNews.

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