Apr 29, 2016

City of Cody gets pushback on idea to sell open space

City of Cody officials didn’t need a survey to learn what the public thought of selling a park to raise money.

As part of the city’s efforts to bolster its shrinking budget, Cody officials recently held a hearing on whether they should consider selling off a 2.53-acre patch of open space along Sheridan Avenue.

The answer voiced by the public was a resounding no.

Roughly three dozen people objected in writing and about half that number spoke against the idea at a packed April 5 council meeting.

One common complaint was that the short-term gains from the sale weren’t worth the long-term costs of losing the open space in Holm View Subdivision.

“What’s our legacy going to be? (That) we balanced a budget or we kept it for the kids?” asked subdivision resident George Niemann.

Cody leaders explored the idea of selling off the open space shown in the background, inside the Holm View Subdivision.
Cody officials said they weren’t excited about the idea of selling off the grassy space, but were trying to explore all their options in tight times.

“I don’t want to sell the park; I just want to keep the community stable,” said Councilman Donny Anderson.

Anderson said in a follow-up interview that proposing a possible sale was, in part, a reaction to citizens who have criticized the city for spending too much on recreation.

“To me, these are eye-openers for folks; it’s a way to get them involved,” he said, saying he was pleased with the turnout and the civility at the meeting.

Cody City Administrator Barry Cook said at the meeting that, with sales tax collections and other revenues on the decline, “the governing body is looking closely at all expenses to determine where savings can be achieved.” Their efforts include recently eliminating two city positions and reducing two others from full to part time.

The net cost of maintaining the grassy space each year is around $7,350, according to city figures. Meanwhile, an appraisal concluded the land might be worth around $324,000.

Cook said there are other city parks that Holm View residents can use, including nearby softball fields and an elementary school playground.

However, many of those who spoke during the public hearing talked about how much the open space is enjoyed. It’s a popular place for youth soccer and several residents said the park was one of the reasons they moved to the roughly 80-lot neighborhood.

Lael Beachler, a podiatrist who lives in the subdivision, said losing a park is “the last thing we need” in a time when people are getting less exercise.

“Taking this park away, it sends a terrible, terrible message, not only to our children but to parents,” Beachler said. “Basically, it’s telling us money over health.”

A few residents felt it wasn’t right for the city to sell off the public land.

“The fact of the matter is, this whole thing’s (the possible sale) come up because one of your neighbors up there continually pounds us ... that we have too many parks, we have too much recreation,’” said Cody Councilman Stan Wolz.

Like the City of Powell and other municipalities, the City of Cody requires developers to set aside 10 percent of a subdivision’s land for public use (or pay the city an equivalent value). That’s how the city got the open space in Holm View, with the developers handing over the property and dedicating it the public’s use.

“I guess we feel that we held up our end of the bargain,” said Roy Holm, who helped engineer the subdivision. “And now we’d like to have the city hold up their end of the bargain.”

Cody City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke said the property could be legally sold if the city revised its ordinances, but a couple opponents of the idea said it would remain wrong on principle.

“The city basically took the land from my family with an implicit promise to provide open space and a park. And now, 20 years later, after Holm View has built the surrounding infrastructure and improved the value of the land, the city wants to condemn it and pocket the proceeds from the sale,” said Gloria Hedderman of Powell. She helped develop the subdivision, which sits on land her grandparents once owned.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong and your financial situation in no way makes it right,” Hedderman said.

By the end of hearing, a couple city leaders indicated they didn’t plan to further explore a sale of the lot.

“After hearing what I’m hearing, and feeling what I’m feeling, I don’t anticipate that,” said Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown.

At the end of the hearing, Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said she doesn't expect that the city will continue to pursue a sale of the open space.

Several council members said they wished more people would attend and offer input at the city’s budget meetings, which usually draw no little or no public interest. A few complained about specific citizens that they felt have voiced inaccurate or off-base criticism of the city over the years, sometimes calling them out by name.

“The fact of the matter is, this whole thing’s (the possible sale) come up because one of your neighbors up there continually pounds us ... that we have too many parks, we have too much recreation,’” said Cody Councilman Stan Wolz, apparently referring to conservative activist and Holm View resident Vince Vanata.

Although Vanata has criticized some of the city’s spending on parks and recreation — namely, the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spends to support the recreation center — he actually was among those who opposed the sale of the open space in Holm View. Vanata, who was unable to attend the meeting, said in an interview that his views were misconstrued by the councilmembers who spoke about him.

Councilman Anderson had brought up Vanata’s criticism at the meeting, too; Anderson also named another critic of the city as having “a very very uneducated opinion about our budget.”

With the large audience, Anderson took the opportunity to make a pitch for passing an additional 1 cent of sales tax to boost local governments.

“At this point, if we want to maintain the status quo, we need to take that penny and kick it in the pot so we can maintain what we have now,” he said.

The open space lies off of Sheridan Avenue.

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