Gay-hating church, bicycling-rule enforcer and Treasure made 2011 memorable |

Gay-hating church, bicycling-rule enforcer and Treasure made 2011 memorable

by Jay Hamburger The Park Record

Parkites will remember 2011 as a year of the expected, like the continuation of the long-running Treasure talks. And a year of the unexpected, such as the appearance of members of a gay-hating Kansas church outside Park City High School.

The Top 5 news stories of 2011 in Park City follow:

5. Pull over, bicyclists

Summer weather had arrived by June and Parkites had tuned up their bicycles and started using pedal power, a favorite transportation option for many who live in Park City.

A Park City police officer was also ready for the summer. The officer had taken on bicyclist safety as a community project, unbeknownst to the large population of riders in the city. State law requires bicycle riders to follow traffic laws like stopping at stop signs. Riders have long been seen regularly not adhering to the laws, however.

A few bicyclists eventually learned that the officer was monitoring riders like he was drivers. The officer, who was not identified, pulled over at least four bicyclists in the summer, a series of stops that garnered widespread publicity in the Park City area. At least one other bicyclist was stopped, but it was not known whether the same officer was involved.

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The police said three of them were pulled over after they did not stop at stop signs. Another one was spotted riding an ill-equipped bicycle, the police said. An officer stopped one of the others for riding against the flow of traffic, according to the police. The bicyclists were warned instead of receiving tickets.

"The cyclists also have to adopt the same things the motorists are doing to keep the community safe," Rick Ryan, a police captain, said about the bicyclist stops.

The leader of the Mountain Trails Foundation, an advocacy group that is active in cycling issues, said his group encourages riders to follow traffic laws and that many bicyclist are aware they must follow the rules.

The officer who had stressed bicyclist safety in the fall left the agency in Park City for the department in Bountiful, ending the string of stops. Phil Kirk, another police captain, called the officer "one of the most productive officers in the department" as the person was preparing to leave. Kirk said the decision to leave was not based on the controversy stirred by the stops.

4. Houses, big and small

The size of houses in Old Town has long been tightly regulated by City Hall formulas, a way, officials argue, to ensure new houses and remodeled older ones do not overwhelm the smaller dwellings.

But in mid-2010, spurred by worries there was an imbalance of larger houses, City Hall made a dramatic move against the bigger ones. A stoppage was put in place halting some popular sorts of development applications, allowing leaders time to consider changes to the rules.

Staffers crafted a package of alterations to City Hall regulations, the most notable being a further restriction on the height of houses. The idea was to lop one story off houses that are built in Old Town — from the three stories that are allowed to two stories.

There were a few other ideas for restrictions, but the loss of the third story was especially dismaying for people with Old Town properties. They wondered how a house could be built with a garage if there was a two-story limit and argued that Old Town should not be seen as a museum that reflects a different time.

They lambasted the idea in what was among the most notable flare-ups in years in Old Town, long Park City’s most divisive neighborhood.

Property owners were deeply concerned about cascading property values if the restrictions were put in place. The Park City Planning Commission listened to more than an hour of testimony during a July hearing. All the comments were in opposition.

"This is nothing more than a taking of our individual rights," Jim Keesler, who owns a vacant lot on Woodside Avenue, said during the July hearing.

The opposition, which came from across the political spectrum, continued into the next month. City Hall eventually relented. The stoppage was rescinded. A member of the Planning Commission, Mick Savage, apologized to a crowd toward the end of the discussions for what he called "mistreatment."

3. Not in Kansas anymore

People from across the globe travel to Park City for January’s annual Sundance Film Festival.

It was a group from Kansas, though, that caught the attention of festival-goers and others during Sundance 2011.

Westboro Baptist Church, located in Topeka, Kan., sent a small contingent of members to stage a demonstration outside the screening of Sundance entry "Red State," directed by Kevin Smith. The film offers an unflattering portrayal of a clergyman seen as being based on the leader of Westboro Baptist Church.

There was quickly chatter about some sort of rally to counter the people from the Kansas church, known for organizing demonstrations outside soldier funerals.

"Red State" debuted at the Eccles Center, on the grounds of Park City High School, during the busy opening weekend of Sundance. The people from Westboro Baptist Church spread an anti-gay message, holding signs and yelling to the movie-goers before a giant group of students from the high school stole the scene.

Perhaps 200 students greeted the Westboro Baptist Church group, staging a raucous demonstration meant to drown out the church’s anti-gay message. Police officers watched as the students, carrying signs, chanting and singing, encircled the people from Westboro Baptist Church.

It was among the largest demonstrations of any type in Park City since the mid-1990s. Some students carried signs with irrelevant messages written on them. Others had signs emblazoned with famous movie lines. They sang songs like the National Anthem and "Hey Jude" by the Beatles.

"To me, it’s offensive. It’s unnecessary to shove it down people’s throats," said Grant Sanderson, who was a senior at the high school and was one of the students who organized the rally against the people from the church.

Smith, the filmmaker, briefly joined the students as he headed into the screening. The group from Westboro Baptist Church left the scene 10 minutes later, walking away under the protection of a police escort.

2. Yawn, it’s Election Day

There was little chatter about the City Hall campaign in the weeks and months leading up to midyear opening of the filing window.

Things did not change very much during the election season itself.

There were three Park City Council seats on the ballot this year, but the campaign never became a barnburner, or even close to one. At the outset, not enough people filed as a candidate to require a primary. One of the candidates then dropped out, leaving just four people competing for one of the three positions on the ballot.

The field consisted of: Liza Simpson, Dick Peek, Andy Beerman and Anne Bransford. Simpson was an incumbent. Peek was a sitting City Councilor seeking his first term after succeeding the late Candy Erickson on the City Council. Beerman was the leader of the Main Street merchants group. Bransford was a member of the Park City Board of Education.

The candidates ran mild-mannered campaigns, talking about their experience and pushing platforms that, generally, did not stray far from City Hall’s direction.

Voters seemed only marginally engaged in the campaign. There was not an overriding issue to captivate the electorate. The candidates spent time on issues like the economy, growth and the Sweeney family’s Treasure development proposal, which was the one issue that could have reshaped the campaign had more progress been made in the discussions between City Hall and the Sweeneys. Bransford saw herself as the outsider of the four, and she questioned whether voters would best be served by the other three if they were all put into office.

"You’re electing a majority that’s joined at the hip, if you go down that road," she said just before Election Day. "You’re electing people who share pretty much the same ideas."

But Bransford’s platform was the one that did not resonate with the voters. She finished a distant fourth on Election Day. Peek won his first full term. Simpson won her second term in office. Beerman claimed his first term. He is scheduled to be sworn into office in early 2012.

1. A nearly $93 million Treasure

As 2011 began, it seemed, City Hall and the Treasure development partnership would be able to reach a long-sought accord after negotiations that have stretched more than a year.

But the year ended without an accord, leaving the two sides heading into 2012 with more work to be accomplished amid the prospects that a conservation agreement will not be reached.

The Sweeney family, one-half of the partnership, won development rights on the Treasure land, sitting on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift, in the 1980s. The Treasure proposal, though, has upset people who live nearby since it was unveiled in 2004, prompting high-stakes negotiations between City Hall and the Treasure partnership about a conservation deal.

The negotiations stretched throughout the year, almost exclusively in closed-door sessions. There would be public events occasionally scheduled for the sides to talk to rank-and-file Parkites about the progress, but the key moment did not occur until the final days of the year.

The Treasure partnership in mid-December delivered to City Hall its asking price for a full buyout of the development rights. Park City leaders guarded the figure for a little more than a week, releasing it shortly before Christmas.

The number was just under $93 million, a sum more than two times greater than the combined value of three conservation bonds passed by Park City voters since the late 1990s. City Hall said there was not community support for a deal at that price, seemingly ending any chance to altogether eliminate the development.

"They have no interest in the community buying this out. I don’t think there’s any semblance in reality to that price," Mayor Dana Williams, one of City Hall’s negotiators, said after the number was made public.

Treasure will almost certainly remain the most contentious development debate in Park City well into 2012. The partnership and City Hall will continue their negotiations through the early part of the year, with the possibility that Treasure could be substantially redesigned. If those talks falter, the partnership will likely restart the discussions with the Park City Planning Commission about the full Treasure proposal.