Ivins City Council narrowly approves setting up bond to aid Black Desert Resort

IVINS — The Ivins City Council gave narrow approval to the creation of a special tax district for the Black Desert Resort, currently under construction at Entrada. The move, approved through a 3-2 vote at the council’s Thursday night meeting at Ivins City Hall, paves the way for the city to issue a bond for the resort that will be paid through additional property taxes levied only on residents of the new resort.

File photo of the construction site of the Black Desert Resort at Entrada along Snow Canyon Road in Ivins City, Utah. March 31, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The vote establishes a public infrastructure district. This will create additional property taxes specifically for those who live at the resort that would be used to pay off a bond issued by the city.

The vote came after about an hour of public comment and debate and was the culmination of discussions that have been taking place in council meetings since last November

Back on April 15, the council rejected by a 3-2 vote a bid for public aid by the resort through the creation of a community reinvestment area (CRA). That move would have had the city provide $5 million through tax breaks and property taxes to be paid by residents of the new resort.

Attorney Randy Larsen, who has advised the council concerning the public aid to the resort, told members during the meeting that the difference between the approved PID and the rejected CRA lies in whether existing taxes are used or new taxes are created.

“CRA is a redistribution of property taxes while a PID is a new tax,” Larsen told the council. “This is not a redistribution.” 

Ultimately, residents of the new resort will be charged an extra $2,750 in property tax for every $500,000 in value to their property. Mayor Chris Hart and others have previously pointed out that no resident outside of the resort will be paying additional property taxes.

The documents creating the new district did not say how much the bond by the city to the development will ultimately be, but when the PID was first proposed back in November, the developers were asking for a $34 million bond. 

Representation from 2020 of part of the parking structure planned for the Black Desert Resort at Entrada. Ivins City, Utah | Photo courtesy of Black Desert Resort at Entrada, St. George News

The city manager and attorney, Dale Coulam, said he was satisfied with the final product of months of negotiations. 

“We feel like we have negotiated to a good place,” Coulam said during the meeting.

Council members asked several clarifying questions and also went line-by-line making changes to the language setting up the PID. Member Sue Gordhammer, who was one of three votes with fellow members Dennis Mehr and Cheyne McDonald against the previous CRA proposal, was especially cognizant of getting a good read on the language creating the new district. “This is a big deal for the city,” Gordhammer said.

Gordhammer ultimately voted to approve the creation of the PID along with members Jenny Johnson and Derek Larsen. McDonald and Mehr repeated their no votes for public assistance, though McDonald told St. George News his no vote wasn’t as much about the public assistance as it was development in general during the drought.

“A big part of my concern is water,” McDonald said. “This is going to take a lot of water.”

Mehr has made no secret of his opposition to creating a public funding apparatus from the beginning and did the same during the meeting.

“As you know I haven’t been a fan from the get go,” Mehr said, though he did give a thumbs up to what he said was the council at least making sure it was taking a careful look at the language creating the PID before approving it. “I suspect it was going to go forward. I just want to make sure it’s done right for the people of Ivins.” 

Such public funding has been used before in neighboring cities like St. George and Washington City, but it is new to Ivins. 

Resident Mike Scott speaks before the Ivins City Council during the council’s meeting at Ivins City Hall on July 15, 2021. Ivins, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The resort on Snow Canyon Parkway is being built at the city line with St. George next to the Entrada Resort that was built by the same developer, Enlaw LLC. The Black Desert project has as its focal point 150 hotel rooms and up to 302 condominium units built around a 19-hole golf course designed in part by professional golfer Tom Weiskopf. Along with that will be a “culinary plaza” with restaurants that are planned to also cater to locals as well as a nature center and trails. 

The developer has requested financial help from the city to help create an underground parking garage that would create more space for the restaurant plaza and gathering area. 

According to a report by the city’s public works department, the golf course on the property is now 50% complete with some final grading taking place for a few of the holes and the driving range. 

During the public comment session, one resident, Mike Scott, spoke, voicing concerns.

“I’m concerned about the PID because of the potential risks for homeowners,” Scott, who has filed to be a candidate for the council in this year’s election, said. He added that PIDs are usually reserved for poorer areas in need of development. “If this was a blighted area, it might be worth taking risks but it isn’t.”

A civics lesson

The meeting proved to be a civics lesson in how government functions, as council members seemingly went line by line over three agenda items to resolve differences over language and make compromises. While on the surface, four votes on the agenda seemed like less than usual, the meeting started at 5:30 p.m. and lasted until 9:45 p.m.

Ivins City Council member Cheyne McDonald during the council’s meeting at Ivins City Hall on July 15, 2021. Ivins, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Along with approving the PID for the Black Desert Resort, the council spent an hour finishing the final language of a new lighting ordinance that has been discussed in the last eight meetings dating back to March 18. 

The council also approved a change to city code that will now allow for homes on no more than a half-acre to have a garage take up to 60% of the total footprint and 55% of the front of a home in the city. 

The debate ranging from how much the percentages should be, what the garages look like to the size of the garage doors took up an hour-and-a-half of the meeting, leaving some in the council chamber grumbling over the long process and the mayor singing “A Miracle of Miracles” from “Fiddler on the Roof” at the end when a compromise was made between council members.

McDonald noticed the grumbling, but with a smile on his face exclaimed how much he loved the process.

“It’s not always getting our own ways. There’s a process to it and it works,” McDonald said. “Sometimes people have very strong positions and it’s still about compromising and balancing.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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