ST. GEORGE — There could be a park-and-ride in Rockville’s future after the Washington County Commission followed through with the purchase of land in the town, angering some residents.
A representative for the county bid $1 million, which was the minimum bid amount – and as it turned out, the only bid – for the approximately 300 acres in Rockville at an auction in Salt Lake City Wednesday.
The land was auctioned off by the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Association, which is a government agency that sells land in Utah to benefit public schools.
The park-and-ride that the county is planning to one day build on the land would provide a parking area for people to catch a bus to Zion National Park.
“It’s in the best interest of the county, in my opinion, to consider how to alleviate traffic, and a park-and-ride is something that has long been on our radar as a way to keep traffic from going into probably the busiest cul-de-sac in Utah, which is Springdale,” commissioner Victor Iverson said at a special county commission meeting Tuesday to approve the bid for the land.
The commissioners told people who came to the meeting that it was not their decision to rush the decision to buy the land. There were other people interested in buying the land, which prompted SITLA to place the land on their auction calendar, SITLA spokeswoman Diane Lund told St. George News. However, when it came time for the auction on Wednesday, Washington County was the only bidder.
Lund said she didn’t know why the other people interested in the land didn’t show up at the auction, but it’s not uncommon for people to express interest in SITLA land and then not show up at the auction.
Concerns from Rockville residents
Several Rockville residents came to the special commission meeting to oppose the county’s plan to build the park-and-ride in their town, including Mayor Pam Leach and Robert Ford, the Democratic candidate seeking to win commissioner Zachary Renstrom’s soon-to-be-vacant seat on the commission in the November election.
Rockville residents at the meeting were united in their message to the commissioners that they didn’t want the land developed. A park-and-ride would make people stop in Rockville, which would threaten the “rural feeling” in the community they’d like the maintain, Ford said.
A park-and-ride is not needed in Rockville, especially since more parking areas have been added in Springdale within the last year to account for the rising number of visitors to Zion National Park, Ford said to the commissioners during the meeting.
“Except for big holidays, the parking (in Springdale) has worked much better and traffic is much better up there,” Ford said. “I don’t think a park-and-ride is an urgent need.”
Ford, who in addition to being a community leader on the planning commission in Rockville, is also a geologist. He said the area where the county is considering building the park-and-ride would be a dangerous location due to the “active rock fall” risk in that area.
He proposed other locations in Virgin and LaVerkin that he said would work better.
“It would take an awful lot of work to turn that land in Rockville into something that would be safe,” Ford said. “Plus, I think it would be very unsightly to the canyon.”
Rockville resident Shirley Ballard was one of the most vocal critics of the commission’s plan at the meeting. She said the county commissioners weren’t listening to their concerns and were going to “run roughshod over Rockville because they don’t agree that we don’t want to be commercialized from one end to the other.”
Immediately following the meeting where the Washington County Commissioners unanimously decided to place a bid on the land, Ballard and Iverson started yelling at each other, reigniting anger between the commission and some Rockville residents.
Iverson refused to apologize for calling the culture of Rockville’s government “dishonest and duplicitous” because of how the town is run.
Iverson also confirmed to St. George News that he called people in Rockville “California communists” during a meeting for the Five County Association of Governments earlier this year, which angered people like Ballard and Ford.
“I’m embarrassed to call you my county commissioner,” Ballard shouted at Iverson loud enough to be heard throughout the halls of the Washington County Administration Building.
Residents in Rockville have several grudges against the commission, including dissolving the Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District earlier this month and expanding the Hurricane Valley Fire District to cover the area.
Ford said that decision was made without public input from people in Rockville.
After Renstrom stepped between Iverson and Ballard to end the explosive argument, Iverson told St. George News he made those comments about Rockville because he disagrees with their politics and the decisions the Rockville town government makes.
He said Ballard has a personal vendetta with the County Commission because her son, Ryan Ballard, was the Rockville-Springdale Fire Chief before the fire district was disbanded by the county.
“There is a vocal minority in Rockville that will object to anything we want to do there,” Iverson said. “That’s not cooperation. That’s not how any of us are going to get anything done.”
Iverson said he won’t apologize for his critical comments against Rockville, including calling people there “California communists.”
Without naming any of his fellow commissioners, commissioner Dean Cox told St. George News he apologized to the mayor of Rockville because of some comments made from one of the members on his board.
“I would never say anything like that,” Cox said. “I’m not denying that something like that was said. I’ve heard some strong opinions expressed before.”
Goals to work together
Despite the rocky past relationship between some residents of Rockville and the county commission, Leach said she hopes to work with the county commissioners when plans are finalized for what they hope to do with the land bought Wednesday.
“I hope we do have conversations and they do respect what Rockville desires for the land within our community,” Leach told St. George News after the sale was finalized Wednesday. “If they go forward at some point in the future with the park-and-ride, I hope they’ll do it in a way that won’t detract from the landscape or impact Rockville.”
There are no final plans for a park-and-ride on the land, Iverson said, and it could be many years before the county even decides to start work on the project.
“What we’re talking about could be when none of us are still involved,” Iverson said at the meeting while motioning to the other two commissioners. “We just want to keep this option open for the county. We feel that that’s important.”
Iverson and the other county commissioners expressed the hope that they can work together with residents of Rockville with any future plans for the land. Cox said he wants to make sure all of the concerns raised by the Rockville residents are listened to.
“No can’t be the only answer,” Iverson said while speaking to the Rockville residents at the meeting. “If we can have a discussion, nobody wants to cooperate more than I do.”
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