Buying Bonanza Flats
September 2, 2016
The City Council has decided to put a bond election on the ballot for November. They are looking for $25 million to buy Bonanza Flats from the consortium of lenders who foreclosed on Tallisker. It's an interesting idea. Bonanza Flats is some very pretty alpine property. It's currently kind of a free-for-all in terms of recreation use, mostly snowmobiles in the winter, and some hiking and other recreation in the summer. It's vacant land, but not really "open space" in the way we have come to think of open space in Round Valley, for example. Because it's privately owned, any recreation use there is trespassing.
I'm not sure I see Bonanza Flats becoming the sort of intensively used open space that Round Valley has become. The season is very short up there. Access isn't really convenient to town. In fact, I think the City's primary interest there isn't so much conservation as a mortal fear of the implications of private development. It's about 1,400 acres, and could potentially have a lot of density on it. It's in Wasatch County, so the City doesn't have any say in what happens. But as soon as somebody figures out how to extend water and sewer service up there, it's off to the races. There are already 400 or so platted lots. All of it would be accessed from Marsac Avenue and the mine road. Gulp.
So one way of looking at it is that the City is proposing to spend $25 million to make stuff not happen up there on the assumption that it would cost much more than $25 million to solve the traffic impacts on Marsac Avenue. The fear of development on Bonanza Flats has been an issue for a long time. In the Empire Pass approval, we ended up with two roads built up the canyon (which probably didn't really need one) so that the City could control access. There's the nice paved, private, gated road for the lots in Empire Pass. The crumby, sort-of-paved road is the public road, which the City didn't want improved because it would encourage development in Brighton Estates.
Just to complicate the jurisdictional stew, the land is in Wasatch County, the access is a State Highway under UDOT control, and all the traffic mess would land at the Deer Valley roundabout. Owning it gives the City a level of control they don't have otherwise.
But if the City buys it, what should it do with it? Recreation open space is nice, but maybe not the only thing to consider. When the Montage Hotel was built, the assumption was that the traffic generated by that big hotel would be terrible, and they were required to build the parking lot out at Richardson Flat so they could shuttle employees to the hotel. In reality, their guests prefer to be chauffeured around. The garage is largely empty, with Deer Valley's snow-making crew enjoying heated, valet parking. The employee shuttle lot on the tailings pond remains unused.
So here's an idea: What if the City bought Bonanza Flats? That will give Wasatch County a stroke because there is no tax revenue on public open space. But instead of keeping all of it as open space, what if a part it got carved out for a hotel project similar to the Montage—call it Son-of-Montage? And then the City trades that to the Treasure/Sweeney folks. The density that seems so obnoxious, and impossible to build on the Treasure Hill site moves up to Bonanza Flat where it could offer something that feels like Chateau Lake Louise, surrounded by semi-pristine open space, with easy lift access to PCMR and Deer Valley, and potentially Brighton and Solitude.
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It's an easier location for the Treasure people to build on, the traffic generation would be similar to Montage, which seems tolerable, Wasatch County gets some property tax out of the deal, and the rest of it is open space.
That's the kind of idea that comes to you while working on old tractors.
While we are suffering the First World problems of whether to buy open space to insulate ourselves from the horrors of prosperity, I had an entirely different and troubling experience this week. I was in the grocery store, and saw a family begging in the parking lot. They had a sign that said, "no food, no money, need gas." Inside the store, I recognized the woman in line behind me. She basically lives in her car in Kamas. Driving home, there was a man with all his possessions on a hand truck walking along Highway 248.
We don't often see poverty like that in Park City. Running into three examples in the space of about an hour was unsettling and more than a little uncomfortable.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.