UPDATED: Park City Treasure deal approved, ending decades of uncertainty
Park City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $48 million ballot measure that will fund most of the cost of the acquisition of the Treasure land in a conservation deal, ending more than three decades of uncertainty about the acreage in what was simultaneously one of the most significant moments in the annals of the community’s development disputes as well as in the years of open space efforts.
According to preliminary totals updated Friday, 2,839 people voted in favor of the ballot measure, or 77.3 percent, while 836 people cast ‘Nay’ votes, or 22.7 percent.
It was a resounding approval after a campaign that was far more contentious than any of City Hall’s previous open space ballot measures. The $48 million represents the bulk of the funds needed for the $64 million acquisition of Treasure, which is located on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift. City Hall will use other municipal monies from a variety of sources for the remainder.
The $48 million approved by voters also includes funding for a contribution of up to $3 million for an unrelated conservation deal in Thaynes Canyon, known as Snow Ranch Pasture. The not-for-profit Utah Open Lands continues to raise funds for the $6 million Snow Ranch Pasture agreement.
The acquisition of Treasure will end a development dispute dating back decades that involved generations of elected and appointed Park City officials, each perplexed by a project that won an overall approval in the 1980s that, even then, was hotly disputed.
“Treasure Hill, certainly something that has been a 32-year odyssey that’s caused a lot of strain. It’s been divisive in this community, and it’s really nice to put it past us,” Mayor Andy Beerman said in brief remarks at a City Council meeting on Thursday.
The mayor thanked the City Councilors for their efforts and praised City Hall staffers for their work on the deal, which is, by a wide margin, the most expensive conservation deal in Park City’s history. The $64 million tops the $38 million paid for Bonanza Flat in 2017.
“It was a lot of late nights. It was stressful. It was a ton of money, and I just want to thank you all for having faith and being bold. And I hope you’re feeling validated by the success of the bond at this point,” Beerman said.
Officials crafted the financing for the deal through an especially detailed review of the budget in the spring and summer as they shifted monies toward the Treasure deal in a bid to reduce the dollar figure that would be attached to the ballot measure.
Beerman also noted the strong showing on Tuesday. He alluded to the opposition movement that worried about a range of issues, including the impact of a successful ballot measure on the affordability of Park City and the $64 million price tag.
“Anytime you come up to something big like this, you get the doubters that come out. What it proved to me is that we don’t have to pit things against each other, our priorities in this community,” Beerman said. “We can have open space, we can have housing, we can have equity. We can address multiple challenges at the same time.”
City Hall projects the property-tax increase approved through Tuesday’s successful vote will be $194 annually on an $800,000 residence classified as a primary home. The increase is predicted to be $353 each year on a vacation home or a commercial property. The bond will be repaid over a term of 15 annual payments.
The acquisition will block a major development that was envisioned in the 1980s approval. The approval involved the Treasure land and nearby parcels. Other pieces of ground that were part of the 1980s approval were developed over the years, but the bulk of the rights were attached to the Treasure land itself.
The Sweeney family secured the 1980s approval and a firm called Park City II, LLC years later acquired a 50 percent stake, forming the Treasure partnership. The partnership spent years in discussions with the Park City Planning Commission about a development of upward of 1 million square feet. Critics seized on issues like the traffic Treasure was projected to generate on streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue, the height of the buildings and the excavation that would be needed on such a highly visible hillside. Only the 1990s-era discussions that resulted in the development built as Empire Pass were more contentious in Park City’s modern era.
As the talks dragged out for longer than a decade, there were attempts to craft a conservation deal of some sort, perhaps by shifting some of the development rights elsewhere or by City Hall extinguishing some but not all of the rights. The prospects of a full buyout like the one approved by the voters on Tuesday did not appear likely until the $64 million deal was reached in early 2018.
The Sweeney family said it was pleased by the results on Election Day. Pat Sweeney, who represented his family in the development talks, said the acquisition by City Hall solves the decades of dispute.
“They created the opportunity for the citizens to decide the fate of our property. They negotiated an acceptable situation for us,” he said, adding, “The citizens had a chance to make the decision and we’re happy with their decision. I think it’s a fine way for Treasure Hill to turn out.”
The Treasure development proposal drew persistent criticism over the years, eventually spurring the formation of an opposition group known as the Treasure Hill Impact Neighborhood Coalition. One of the founders of the group, Brian Van Hecke, said the acquisition is a “dream that I always had, a dream I never let go of.”
“It leaves Old Town intact. … It makes it a livable place for generations to come,” Van Hecke said.
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Park City officials are expected to present information about upcoming work on the Treasure acreage designed to guard against a wildfire, as well as a series of other City Hall projects and programs, at an open house that is scheduled next week.