More Dogs on Main
June 1, 2012
It’s hard to know how to react. The news that the two defining battles of our time have come to an end is hard to get a grip on. There are no parades or fireworks. Nobody is dancing in the streets. It feels like the end of the Cold War we woke up one morning and it was just done. In the same week, the county bought 300 acres in the Round Valley area from the Gilmor family, and the city annexed the proposed movie production studio at Quinn’s Junction, greasing the skids for final approval and construction. So now what?
Both of these issues have been "in process" for more than 10 years. For many of you, the disputes predate your arrival in Summit County and you’ve never known a time when they were not as regular a part of the news as the weather forecast and the police blotter. The resources thrown at both of them are huge. And now they are over.
I’ve got mixed feelings on both of them. The two aren’t connected in any way, but both are kind of object lessons in how not to process a controversial zoning application. The process was allowed to go on far too long without making a final decision. Ten years of "maybe" is no way to run things.
Adding the Gilmor property to the Round Valley open space will be nice. The base zoning on the property was probably unreasonable when it was first enacted, and as the area around it developed into full suburban bliss, the zoning on the Gilmor property became less tenable. The property owner countered with density requests that over-reached to the other extreme. Buying it was a fair result.
The movie studio is far more complicated. Again, the proposed project didn’t fit any part of the zoning on the property, the general plans of either the city or county, and frankly doesn’t appear to make any economic sense.
There had been other proposals for the sort of typical freeway-ramp gas station/convenience store/fast food-o-rama that seriously offended the delicate sensibilities of Park City’s entry corridor. So the movie production studio and live theater complex seemed like an improvement over the truck stop.
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The original iteration was a kind of Donnie and Marie theme park, though it moved more in the direction of the production studio years ago. Then it got complicated. For a while it was mixed up with the proposed Air Force recreation hotel (for which there was such an urgent need that it still isn’t built despite all kinds of favors and special deals with the legislature).
It became a fight over principle, with the sanctity of local zoning pitted against the whims of a capricious state legislature handing out favors to campaign contributors. It was small-town America fighting for local control with the Pentagon. There were creepy alliances between the movie people, the feds and the legislature.
Looking back over better than 10 years of this, you would come to the conclusion that blocking the construction of the Raleigh Studio (and all the other stuff that is crammed on the site) was nothing less than an existential battle. Through the years, the city and county undermined every argument they had against it. "We can’t have big buildings sprawling across the entry corridor," they said. "Highway 248 is at maximum capacity and nothing more can feed on to it." And then we got the NAC campus, skating rink, recreation complex, U.S. Ski Team building, county Health Department, hospital, clinic, and who knows what else is approved out there. The city is half owner in a suburban development next door to the studio lot. Pretty hard to tell the only guy left that his future is raising hay.
So we are going to get a movie studio and hotel. It won’t be invisible, but given the construction and approvals in the area already, it’s no longer isolated. The sun will rise more or less on schedule. And traffic on 248 will continue to back up all the way to the Rail Trail crossing like it does now.
It’s hard to know whether the public won or lost in these. The open space will be nice, but developing the Gilmor property to the density of the surrounding neighborhoods would not have been the end of the world. Trailside (and even Highland Estates) used to be open space, too. I prefer the hay field to anything built at Quinn’s, but the decision to sprawl out along 248 was made a long time ago. The studio is an infill project now. In both cases, the original reasons for the fight seem almost quaint.
But I hope that the final design for the movie studio, when it goes broke, is readily adaptable to a go-kart track. That could be cool.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for 25 years.