Blanding City Council talks parks master plan, pickleball court, water-efficiency

Members of the Blanding City Council adopted its first parks and trails master plan, approved a bid to construct a pickleball court, and considered participation in a state-sponsored lawn water-efficiency program at their latest meeting.
Members of the Blanding City Council adopted the city’s first Parks, Recreation, Trails & Open Space Master Plan at their May 23 meeting.
The approved master plan will allow the city to identify its current amenities and create a high-level plan for the future of parks and recreation in the city as well as allow for an impact fee analysis to determine impact fees for new developments to maintain the current level of service to residents.
The city contracted with Blu Line Design to research and draft the master plan. Presenting at the meeting was Rob Donigan of Blu Line.
Donigan presented the 40-page report including existing conditions, needs assessment, and level of service analysis, plan recommendations, and funding opportunities.
The plan identified the current 32.5 acres of developed parks and recreation facilities as well as the 1,100 acres of city-owned natural open space including Recapture and Fourth Reservoir. With 9.8 acres of developed facilities per 1,000 residents, Blanding ranked above the National Parks and Recreation Associations' recommendation of five to nine acres per 1,000.
The report included a survey of residents with 400 responses. Fifty-percent of respondents noted improvements to restrooms and a splash pad as a top recreation need. Other top recreation needs included trails and walking paths, trees, and drinking fountains.
The report's recommendations for the future included a small and large neighborhood park preferably located in the north end of town where fewer park amenities currently are. Other recommendations included a trail system connecting Recapture Reservoir to the town, and a trail connecting the fourth and third reservoirs to the town. Other recreation recommendations included outdoor community events, pickleball instruction, and adult sports offerings.
The master plan includes a price estimate for each of the recommended projects to allow the city to begin planning for future developments. Council members and staff also noted that the master plan itself will be helpful for applying for future grant opportunities.
While the report included a number of items for the future, the cataloging of current amenities is also important for an impact fee analysis. The analysis performed by Zions Bank will help the city establish a potential fee for developers to pay for new growth to keep the same level of service for parks and recreation. Donigan explained,
“This’ll strike a line in the sand of this is Blanding's historic level of service and that's what the impact fee is based on. People who have lived in Blanding for years have paid for current amenities. So new houses can’t be charged to pay more than people that have lived here previously for similar amenities.”
City manager Dave Johnson explained the council will have the option to lower impact fees based on the upcoming analysis.
Members of the council unanimously adopted the new master plan.
Members of the Blanding City Council approved a notice of award for a low bid on the construction of pickleball courts at Blanding Central Park. The approval was made by a split 3-2 vote.
After receiving no response on two different bid periods for the project the city received a response during their third request from two local companies. TWS Construction came in with a low bid of $129,094 on the project.
The pickleball court project is being funded in part by a Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $69,762. With the city paying the remaining $59,332 for the project. The city originally budgeted $42,000 for the project in January 2022.
Council member Erik Grover asked where the additional $17,000 for the project would come from. Johnson explained the city will look for excess in other capital project budgets, and if there are no funds available it would require a budget adjustment at the end of the year.
Council member Chris Ewald added his support saying he believes the courts will get good use from the public, City council member Cheryl Bowers also expressed her support for the project.
“I think this is a good use of tax dollar funds, or sales tax funds. That's mostly where this money’s going to come from because it's something that our entire city can enjoy, every resident in the city. I think it's wonderful. I don’t want to lose out on that nearly $70,000 that we’re going to get from a grant for this project.”
Council members Len Gasser, Ewald, and Bowers voted in favor of the notice of award with council members Kellen Nielson and Grover voting against it.
TWS Construction’s estimated timeline was 60 days for the project.
Members of the Blanding City Council also heard a report on the city’s possible participation in the Utah Landscape Conservation Incentive Program.
The program allows property owners in qualified cities to receive a cash incentive bonus,($1.50 per square foot) from the state to replace lawns with water-efficient landscaping.
City Engineer and Public Works Director Terry Ekker explained he researched the program at the request of city council member Bowers. Ekker explained the city would need to adopt some of its own water-efficient landscape ordinances in order to be eligible.
The required ordinances are aimed at making new developments in the city follow water-efficient landscape practices. Required ordinances include no lawn or parking strip areas less than eight feet in width in new residential development, and no more than 50-percent of front and side yard landscaped areas in new residential areas as lawns.
For commercial, industrial, institutional, and multi-family development common area landscapes, lawn areas should not exceed 20-percent of total landscaped area. That does not include active recreation areas such as a soccer field built by the school district.
Ekker explained the required city ordinances work hand-in-hand with the incentive program to increase water-efficient landscaping.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to use taxpayer dollars to incentivize existing folks to change their water use and then still have all the new guys doing whatever they wanted.”
Should the city pass those ordinances, property owners could apply for the program and receive $1.50 per square foot to replace lawns with program-approved water-efficient landscaping.
The program allows for up to $50,000 in incentives a year for projects. Among the 12 program requirements include a minimum project area of 200 square feet, prior approval, and drought-resistant perennials and/or shrubs must cover (canopy cover) at least 50% of the converted project area at maturity.
Other requirements also exist but Ekker notes that for those residents interested that could be a significant amount.
“When we looked at some of our new water rates and looked at the average lawn size we were looking at about 3,000 square feet. So the average homeowner who decided to use the incentive program would be looking at an incentive from the state of about $4,500. So it's a significant amount of money to help you relandscape.”
Bowers noted that the required ordinances to participate probably make sense.
“They’re not terrible for drought areas in the first place. Thank you so much for doing that research. I think it's excellent. I personally think it's something we should look at.”
No vote was taken on the issue, but the council will likely take on the issue in future meetings.
The Blanding City Council also approved an updated agreement between the city and the irrigation company formalizing use of the upper-system water. The agreement to replace one expired in September of 2022.
Council also held a public hearing required by state law to disclose annual fund transfers from the city enterprise funds to the general fund, no public comment was provided on the transfer.
The budgeted transfer of utility fund revenue to the city general fund acts as a dividend to Blanding taxpayers to help cover the cost of city services. The one-percent to 3.4-percent of revenues transferred from six enterprise accounts totals $187,500.
At the meeting members of the council also met the city's new finance director James Francom. Francom replaces Kim Palmer who accepted a job offer elsewhere in April. Francom comes to the position after working twelve-and-a-half years as the chief deputy officer in the San Juan County Clerk/Auditor office.

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