Growth decisions, perhaps even Treasure, could be made as Campaign ’11 nears
March 8, 2011
Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council on Thursday are scheduled to begin their discussions about whether some landowners should be allowed to shift their development rights elsewhere, a program that, if created, could have ramifications stretching from the upper reaches of Old Town, through the Treasure acreage and to the Bonanza Park district.
The upcoming talks will also test the elected officials’ support of the Park City Planning Commission, a panel appointed by the City Council, in what could be the year’s most decisive zoning decision. If the City Council agrees with the lower panel on the crucial points, a highly sought conservation deal for the Treasure land could be jeopardized based on price tag. But if the elected officials overrule the Planning Commission on those points, there could be political implications in an election year at City Hall if Parkites are left wondering about the City Council’s thinking.
The discussions about a program allowing the shifts are slated to start at 3:30 p.m. at the Marsac Building, with 30 minutes set aside at that time. They are scheduled to continue sometime after 6 p.m., and a hearing is planned then. City Hall staffers do not want the City Council to cast a vote on Thursday. Another round of discussions is tentatively scheduled March 31.
The idea to allow the shifts, offered by City Hall staffers, is seen as a means to protect coveted land while positioning development in places leaders see as being fit for growth. There are several parcels of land in play, but the Sweeney family’s Treasure land, on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort and overlooking Old Town, has been seen as the key piece of ground.
A City Hall negotiating team and representatives from the Sweeney family have spent months attempting to craft a conservation deal. The two sides are pursuing two options — one that would carve the size of the Treasure development in half and another that would eliminate the prospects of development on the land altogether.
A program allowing landowners to shift development rights will be critical to either of the options. The idea has held that City Hall and the Sweeneys will reach an accord that calls for all or half of the development rights to be shifted elsewhere through a program. At that point, the Sweeneys would be expected to require compensation. It is not clear, though, what sort of price tag will be attached to a deal and how one would be funded — through taxpayer money raised in a ballot measure, through payment from a landowner where the rights will be shifted toward or, perhaps, a combination of both.
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But in a February recommendation, made on a split vote, the Planning Commission complicated matters by refusing to support City Hall staffers asking for half of the Treasure development rights to be put in play in a program allowing the shifts. Instead, the panel stripped all but approximately 10 percent of the development rights at the Treasure site out of the recommendation. In doing so, the Planning Commission worried that the Treasure development rights — 1 million square feet of residential units, commercial space and a convention center — were too broad to shift elsewhere.
If the City Council supports the Planning Commission recommendation, upward of 90 percent of the development rights on the Treasure land will remain intact. That would make a conservation deal to eliminate the prospects of development far more expensive for City Hall. Should the City Council restore the 50 percent of the Treasure rights, as had been recommended by staffers, or put even more of the rights into play under a program allowing shifts, the elected officials would be treading a fine political line given their usual support of the lower panel. The cost of a conservation agreement, though, would likely fall sharply.
The idea to allow the shifts, known in zoning circles as transferring development rights or transferring density rights, comes years into the Treasure discussions and at a moment when the discussions between the Sweeney family and the Planning Commission about the Treasure blueprints had reached a stalemate. The current talks are unfolding in an effort to reach a breakthrough on Treasure.
The City Councilors have not hinted at their support or opposition to the lower panel’s recommendation. Although the elected officials seem to support the theory of allowing shifts, their opinions about the details of a program, such as the amount of the Treasure development rights that should be in play, remain unknown.