Park City adds another layer of open space protection to Treasure
Park City leaders recently added a layer of protection to the City Hall-owned Treasure acreage overlooking Old Town, taking one in a series of procedural steps that are needed as officials finalize the open space status of the municipal government’s most expensive conservation acquisition.
The Park City Council at a meeting earlier in July approved a change of zoning at the location. The elected officials cast a unanimous vote and did not hold an extensive discussion prior to the vote. Lynn Ware Peek, a City Councilor, noted community goals are met with the open space. The Park City Planning Commission previously unanimously recommended in favor of the change.
Nobody testified during a hearing prior to the City Council vote. The change shifted the land to recreation open space zoning. The land had previously been split between what is known as estate zoning and one of City Hall’s Old Town zones. The estate and Old Town zones allow development while the recreation open space zone does not.
The land is on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift. It is off streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue. The land offers a backdrop to Old Town and is prized for the views. It is also popular with hikers and mountain bikers who have easy access to trails from the Town Lift base and other entry points to the land in the neighborhood.
The move by the City Council was expected in the months after City Hall acquired the land for conservation purposes, ending a decades-long development dispute. The municipal government spent $64 million to acquire the Treasure land from a partnership involving the Sweeney family and a firm called Park City II, LLC. The Sweeney family was the traditional owner and sold a 50 percent stake to Park City II, LLC in 2006, creating the partnership that was in talks about the development proposal before the agreement to sell the land was reached.
The Sweeney family secured development rights on the land and nearby parcels in the 1980s and engaged the Planning Commission for more than a decade with the details of Treasure itself, which was proposed in the range of 1 million square feet. The Planning Commission and people who live on nearby streets expressed deep-rooted concerns about the size of the development, the traffic it was projected to generate on streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue and the impact of the construction.
City Hall and the Treasure partnership eventually launched discussions about a conservation deal, resulting in a $64 million agreement. Park City voters in 2018 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure providing most of the funding through a property-tax increase, and the acquisition was finalized in March. Much of the land that was acquired was already expected to remain as open space since the development proposal involved just a small portion of the ground City Hall purchased.
City Hall must take the procedural steps like the rezoning to complete the conservation wishes of voters. The land was sought for the scenic value, and there is a popular trail and skiing terrain on the ground. City Hall staffers drafted a report in anticipation of the recent meeting indicating “the land is to remain permanently preserved and protected from development.”
A City Hall zoning change is not a permanent protection since the underlying zoning could someday again be altered by another set of elected officials. The sides also agreed to attach an open space deed restriction at the time City Hall closed on the acquisition, something that provides another level of protection.
Officials, meanwhile, plan to place the Treasure land under another sort of open space restriction, likely a mechanism known as a conservation easement. A conservation easement essentially protects land as open space and outlines a limited set of uses on a parcel.
A third party holds and enforces a conservation easement. City Hall policy currently calls for a conservation easement to be placed on land acquired for open space purposes, and other acreage owned by City Hall for conservation purposes are restricted through such an easement. City Hall staffers expect to work on a conservation easement for Treasure over the next year. It is anticipated a Treasure conservation easement will largely memorialize the current open space and recreational uses of the land.
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Daniel Lewis, an Old Town resident who unsuccessfully sought a spot on the Park City Council in 2019, said this week he will mount another campaign this year.