Sunlight creeps up the Treasure hillside overlooking Old Town on Tuesday morning as the Town Lift climbs from Main Street shortly before Park City Mountain
Sunlight creeps up the Treasure hillside overlooking Old Town on Tuesday morning as the Town Lift climbs from Main Street shortly before Park City Mountain Resort opened for the day. There could be major movement on the disputed Treasure development proposal in the next week. Jay Hamburger/Park Record

City Hall officials see there still being a chance to negotiate an agreement with the Treasure partnership about the development before the end of the year, essentially by the last Park City Council meeting of 2013, scheduled for Dec. 19.

A deal, if it is crafted, would probably involve shifting half of the longstanding development rights attached to the acreage to another location and keeping the other half intact on the Treasure land itself.

There has been little information made public in months about the negotiations. And leaders rarely discuss in any depth a critical question in the Treasure situation: what happens if the two sides are not able to reach an agreement by the end of the year. The answer is full of uncertainties.

Treasure remains the highest-profile development application before City Hall nearly 10 years after it was submitted. Over the years, the Treasure side -- led by the Sweeney family -- made only limited progress in its efforts to win an outright approval for the development. The Treasure side and the Park City Planning Commission became deadlocked in the latter part of the last decade.

The Sweeney family sees the project -- envisioned as upward of 1 million square feet on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift -- as something that will expand the lodging options in Old Town and boost business along Main Street. The opposition, particularly people along streets like Empire Avenue and Lowell Avenue, are worried the project will loom over Old Town and attract too much traffic to narrow streets.

The discussions about the possibility of shifting half of the development rights elsewhere have largely occurred in closed-door meetings. The details of an agreement believed to be under negotiation are not known.

It seems likely Park City leaders on or just before Dec. 19 could make public the details, if an agreement is reached. But if one is not reached by then, the community could be left wondering what would occur next.

Talks suspended earlier

The Treasure partnership agreed to suspend its discussions with the Planning Commission about the project as negotiations were underway centering on high-level topics like the prospects of a taxpayer-funded buyout of the Treasure development rights, which has since been nixed based on the price tag, or the possibility of shifting some of the development rights to another site. That remains a possibility and those talks have involved the elected officials.

If an agreement is not reached, it is seems probable the Treasure side would re-launch its discussions with the Planning Commission. The talks at that point would be expected to return to the idea of putting the full project at the Treasure site itself rather than shifting 50 percent of the development rights elsewhere.

The Planning Commission-level debate if that were to happen would potentially be similar to the one that was occurring when the negotiations started about a buyout or a shift of half of the development rights. The Planning Commission at that time appeared to have deep-rooted concerns about the project. It seemed then that the panel could have been preparing to cast a critical vote against the project within months.

The Planning Commission that would restart discussions about Treasure if an agreement is not reached would essentially be a new one from the time that the panel last heavily debated the project. There have been changes to the membership of the Planning Commission since then, most recently when the City Council in November put three new people on the seven-person panel.

The Treasure side would essentially need to reintroduce the project to the Planning Commission as a result of the break in meetings. It is not known how the Planning Commission of today would react to the project. Concerns about traffic and the size of the buildings proposed at Treasure would likely remain, but it is uncertain whether the concerns would be as deep as those expressed earlier. Opposition from the neighborhood and elsewhere would be expected to resemble the earlier worries.

A decade later

The Treasure partnership at that point might press more firmly than it did in the past. By early 2014, it will have been a decade since the Sweeney family submitted its plans to City Hall. It is rare that a developer spends that length of time in a City Hall planning process, although part of that time was in negotiations about a shift of some of the development rights.

Once the Planning Commission votes, an appeal would be expected regardless of the decision. If the vote is against the project, the Treasure partnership would be expected to appeal. If Treasure is approved, the opposition could file the appeal.

An appeal would trigger an unorthodox procedure at City Hall, put in place as a result of the Treasure deadlock. Under the municipal government's development rules, appeals typically are heard by the City Council. But the elected officials removed themselves as the appeal body when they opted to instead become involved in the negotiations in what was a highly unusual move. The appeal would instead be heard by a three-person panel.

The decision by the elected officials to remove themselves from an appeal is binding, meaning that the upcoming change in mayoral administrations and the addition of a new City Councilor does not alter the procedure in the event of an appeal.