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Merchant leader resigns

By Jay Hamburger

Mike Sweeney, the leader and chief City Hall lobbyist for the Main Street merchants, resigned as president of the Historic Main Street Business Alliance Tuesday, saying that he intends to widen his role in his family’s efforts to win an approval for its controversial Treasure Hill development. The move, announced in an e-mail to members of the alliance’s board of directors, was unexpected and illustrates the increasing tensions regarding Treasure Hill, the most controversial development proposal City Hall has considered since United Park City Mines won a Yea’ vote on its Flagstaff project, now known as Empire Pass, in 1999. Sweeney had been president of the alliance for about 18 months. Ken Davis, who holds the Cows franchise on Main Street and has the Java Cow coffee shop, replaced Sweeney on an acting basis. The alliance is one of City Hall’s most frequent lobbyists and Sweeney has appeared in front of the Park City Council repeatedly, recently requesting that the government suspend downtown paid parking during the holiday shopping season. The Sweeney family’s Treasure Hill talks with the Planning Commission have stretched from early 2004 and it does not appear that the commissioners will cast a vote for some time. Pat Sweeney, who is Sweeney’s brother, has largely shepherded the project through the planning process, but the former merchant leader said he plans to be more visible in the Treasure Hill talks. The Sweeneys on Wednesday were in front of the Planning Commission for a Treasure Hill hearing. “I feel the process we’re going through is taking too long,” Sweeney said. He said he intends to lobby Main Street merchants for Treasure Hill support. Merchants testified at the Wednesday meeting, marking a change from past hearings in which most people who spoke were neighbors opposing the development. Sweeney said, since the alliance does not take sides on development issues, it is easier for him to support the project if he is not the president of the merchants. “If I go up and speak in front of City Hall, am I talking as Mike Sweeney or Mike Sweeney, president of the HMBA,” he said. In the resignation e-mail, Sweeney said he wants the merchants to attend Planning Commission meetings and write pro-Treasure Hill letters to City Hall. Sweeney said he had not received complaints regarding his leadership post on Main Street and his involvement with Treasure Hill. Mayor Dana Williams said Sweeney was “very effective” as the merchants’ leader, commending him for engaging City Hall with Main Street issues. Williams did not provide what he sees as Sweeney’s best idea but said the former leader was committed to ensuring that he talked to the government about the ideas. Williams said it would have been a conflict for Sweeney to lobby for Treasure Hill to the alliance if he was the organization’s president. Sweeney said he has experience in planning procedures from a time when he was involved with the permitting of a gold mine in California, which he said provided him ideas about how to sooth relations with a project’s opponents. Treasure Hill encompasses 282 residential units and another 19,000 square feet of commercial space on 11.5 acres on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort, just west of Old Town. Much of the land would be left undeveloped under the Sweeney plan. The Sweeneys hold development rights at the site dating from the 1980s and are now pursuing a permit to further pursue the project. The 1980s approval allows development at the site. The current talks with the Planning Commission, in contrast to most applications the commissioners consider, will not decide whether to allow development but rather the specifics of the project. The neighbors are especially worried about the amount of traffic that they expect Treasure Hill will attract to streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue. A traffic study has found that the roads, combined with traffic-reducing measures the Sweeneys plan, can handle the projected increases but the neighbors remain doubtful. Sweeney touts what he sees as Treasure Hill’s benefits to the economy, particularly in Old Town, where there have been only a few major lodging properties built in the last decade. “This is all about tourism. This is all about putting a bed base on Main Street,” Sweeney said, characterizing the opposition as based on the neighbors’ misunderstanding of the project.


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