As Treasure looms, Park City keeps panel roster intact indefinitely | ParkRecord.com

As Treasure looms, Park City keeps panel roster intact indefinitely

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

The Park City Council on Thursday opted to keep two members of the Planning Commission on the panel past the scheduled expiration of their terms, a move meant to keep the current roster intact on an indefinite basis as another round of discussions about the polarizing Treasure development proposal nears.

Mayor Jack Thomas and the City Councilors want Adam Strachan and Laura Suesser to continue to serve on the influential panel. Thomas, a former Planning Commissioner, said it was an "excellent idea" to keep the two. City Councilor Andy Beerman indicated continuity is important. The two Planning Commissioners were not in attendance. The terms were scheduled to expire in July.

It is a highly unusual move for a City Council to retain a Planning Commissioner past the expiration of a term without reappointing them to another term. It is even more extraordinary to retain someone on an indefinite basis. The City Council in office in 2013 notably kept three Planning Commissioners beyond the expiration of their terms. In that case the extended service covered a defined period meant to allow the panel to continue to work on City Hall growth documents like the General Plan. Thomas, a Planning Commissioner at that time, was one of the panelists who was kept in office beyond the expiration of his term to work on the General Plan.

City Hall had already posted an advertisement seeking candidates for the Planning Commission. Bruce Erickson, the planning director, told the elected officials nobody had submitted an application by the time of the meeting.

retaining Strachan and Suesser as Planning Commissioners, the City Council kept the panel’s longest-serving member, Strachan, and the most current appointment, Suesser. Strachan was appointed to the Planning Commission in the middle of 2008. He is the only current member who held a seat the last time the Treasure partnership was before the Planning Commission, in 2010. Suesser was appointed in February.

The Treasure proposal involves upward of 1 million square feet of development on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift. The Treasure partnership, consisting of the Sweeney family and an investor, recently requested the Planning Commission restart its talks after the hiatus of six years. Treasure is the most divisive development proposal in Park City since the 1990s-era talks about the project that would become Empire Pass.

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In an interview several days prior to the City Council’s decision on Thursday, Strachan said he planned to submit an application for reappointment. He had earlier declared he intended to retire from the Planning Commission. Strachan said the change in position was based on the return of Treasure and his experience with the project prior to the hiatus. He said he would resign from the Planning Commission once a Treasure decision was made if he was reappointed.

"Treasure is important enough to the whole town," Strachan said, adding that he would be "reluctantly reapplying."

It is not clear how long Treasure will be in front of the Planning Commission. The developers spent six years on and off in talks with earlier Planning Commissions, making little progress before the hiatus. The Treasure side in April crafted a schedule that called for a Planning Commission vote in late September. That proposed schedule, which put the first Planning Commission meeting on April 27, has already been rejected by City Hall. The Planning Department has instead tentatively scheduled the Treasure talks to restart on June 8.

A Sweeney family member, Mike Sweeney, was in attendance on Thursday as the City Council made the decision about the Planning Commission terms. In an interview, Sweeney noted that Strachan is the only current member who was a Planning Commissioner when Treasure was last before the panel.

"I think that’s a plus," Sweeney said, adding, "It’s good to have some continuity."

The Planning Commission decision regarding Treasure will be especially notable as a result of an earlier City Council unsuccessfully attempting to reach a conservation agreement with the Treasure side. In doing so, the City Council at that time removed itself as the body that will hear an anticipated appeal of the Planning Commission’s eventual Treasure vote. It would have been seen as a conflict of interest if the City Council negotiated for a conservation deal as well as retaining its duties as the appeal body on the project. Any appeal would be heard by a three-person panel selected by the City Council.

Although Treasure is expected to grab the most attention, the Planning Commission in coming months is also anticipated to address other high-profile issues. An ambitious proposal to redevelop the Bonanza Park district is headed to the Planning Commission on Wednesday. The discussions about Bonanza Park could extend for months. The Planning Department also anticipates talks about City Hall’s detailed development rules regarding topics like transportation, energy and housing.

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