Park City, in blindside, says alternative to Treasure under negotiation
Late-hour secret discussions between City Hall, developer acknowledged
Park City leaders and the Treasure partnership on Wednesday evening said an alternative to the disputed hillside development is under negotiation, a startling statement made as it appeared a momentous vote on the project was looming as early as next week.
Mayor Jack Thomas and Mayor-elect Andy Beerman, who is now a Park City Councilor, appeared at a Park City Planning Commission meeting to brief the panel about the possibility of an alternative, which Thomas characterized as a “unique window of opportunity.” The two did not provide details. It was an extraordinary moment nonetheless as the current mayor and the incoming mayor sat before the Planning Commission to acknowledge there is a chance some sort of deal could be reached within days after more than a decade of on-and-off talks about the development proposal.
Thomas declined to provide details during an interview afterward. Thomas said a not-for-profit organization initiated talks between City Hall and the Treasure partnership, consisting of the Sweeney family and a firm known as Park City II, LLC. He declined to identify the organization that initiated the talks and refused to say whether the not-for-profit group is a land-conservation organization. The talks have unfolded privately for several months, Thomas said.
“We’re close. We’re written close,” the mayor said, apparently referring to some sort of drafted language of an agreement.
Thomas and Pat Sweeney, who represents the family in the Treasure talks, said “initial terms” have been reached.
The existence of private negotiations was not publicly known until the Planning Commission meeting, and the announcement appeared to blindside members of the panel and people in the room who have followed Treasure for years. A one-week delay in the discussions was requested by the elected officials and granted by the Planning Commission.
Adam Strachan, the chair of the Planning Commission, inquired whether the delay would be limited to one week as he considered how the review of the project should proceed. Thomas responded that “it is indeed” a one-week window that does not jeopardize the Planning Commission process. Strachan encouraged City Hall staffers to continue to press ahead with their work on Treasure regardless of the negotiations.
There were also questions from the Treasure opposition. Some of the longtime project critics were in the audience as the mayor spoke to the Planning Commission. Brian Van Hecke, a leader in the opposition, said he is “very leery” of the move after so many years of Treasure discussions.
“Why now?” he said.
The Planning Commission and the opposition have expressed deep-rooted concern about Treasure, doubting numerous aspects of the project. There are worries about the traffic Treasure would be expected to generate on streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue, the size of the buildings, the excavation that would be required and the construction itself. The Treasure partnership has countered the project fits as designed and measures would be taken to protect the neighborhood. It appears the Planning Commission is readying to cast a ‘Nay’ vote if a decision is ultimately rendered. Panel members have repeatedly indicated the project’s impacts have not been properly addressed.
The private talks between City Hall and the Treasure partnership follow years after another set of elected leaders unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a conservation agreement. There were previously ideas for City Hall to acquire the land outright or shift some of the development rights to another location determined to be better suited for growth. A deal was elusive at that time. The Treasure side in late 2011 priced a full acquisition at nearly $93 million, essentially ending the negotiations at that time after Park City’s leadership indicated a deal would not be pursued at that figure.
The mayor on Wednesday declined to discuss whether a full acquisition of the Treasure land is under negotiation, whether a deal is under discussion to shift some or all of the development rights elsewhere or whether an agreement would involve an instrument known as a conservation easement, which effectively prohibits development on a parcel.
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The Park City Police Department last week and early this week received several reports of parties, a common complaint to the agency during busy times of the ski season. The cases did not appear to be serious, but they seem to show an uptick in activity in the community.