Park City ends a year of heavy snow, S.R. 248 worries and targeted Turning Point USA
It was unclear at the beginning of 2019 what sort of year it would be in Park City after the tensions of Treasure and the Winter Olympic bid the year before, the hotly contested mayoral election two years before and the continuing adjustment to the ownership changes at the two local mountain resorts.
The year ends after 12 months that featured intrigue, surprises and a major return of Old Man Winter. It will unlikely be seen in the future as an era-changing year, but 2019 nonetheless could eventually be considered a transitional time as Park City heads into a new decade.
The Park Record below presents the Top 5 news items from 2019:
5. Brakes put on road idea
Many consider the backups on the S.R. 248 entryway as the worst in the Park City area as commuters, skiers and students clog the road in the mornings and afternoons, creating lines of cars that can stretch for several miles.
The Utah Department of Transportation, which controls the road, by 2019 understood that the traffic had become bad enough that changes were needed. In the middle of the year state transportation officials outlined what they considered to be a preferred alternative for the road calling for the expansion of the S.R. 248 entryway to five lanes. It would be a dramatic reworking of S.R. 248 that the transportation officials saw as necessary to address the forecasted increase in traffic in the coming decades.
But many in Park City were incensed with the concept. A widened road on a sensitive entryway was inappropriate, they said, worrying about increased speeds, the environmental impact and the look of a reconfigured state highway. The concept spurred a ‘Save PC Hill’ effort, named for a highly visible hillside along the entryway, as Parkites rallied against the state transportation officials. City Hall also opposed the idea. The state eventually acquiesced as the opposition mounted. The state and City Hall intend to work on alternatives.
“Message from the entire community was received loud and clear. They have backed off any concepts involving a road widening or trying to add additional lanes,” Mayor Andy Beerman said in October, as the decision by the state transportation officials was publicized.
4. Winter storms back
Heavy snow in a mountain resort like Park City is a desirable weather forecast as skiers and snowboarders prepare for their vacations.
The first months of 2019 provided plenty of snow, attracting large crowds to Park City that boosted the economy but also causing numerous problems in the day-to-day living of Parkites.
The midwinter snow was especially heavy as a series of storms pummeled the region. The snow piled up on the roads, on buildings and the slopes as snowplows and homeowners attempted to keep up. It was joyous for the tourism industry even as many Parkites seemed to eventually become tired of the snowy roads and shoveling.
By the end of March, it was clear that the snow was problematic in a variety of ways. Part of a roof of a house in Thaynes Canyon collapsed in mid-February with the snow being the suspected cause. The collapse left a scene of destruction that was primarily visible from above. A month later, a large part of a silver mining-era building on the Park City Mountain Resort slopes collapsed, likely caused by the snow and the age of the building. There were also numerous traffic accidents attributed to the winter-driving conditions.
There were tensions in the neighborhoods that required police attention. The Park City Police Department responded to complaints about people moving snow to someone else’s property, as an example.
“People get frustrated . . . The weather in general is complicating driving and keeping your sidewalks and driveways clear,” Phil Kirk, a Police Department captain, said in February amid the tensions.
3. A vote of confidence
The Park City election in 2019 never became a barnburner like some of those in the past. It could have been voters were exhausted after the Treasure ballot measure the year before and a fiercely competitive campaign for the mayor’s office the year before that. The lack of political tension also was likely a result of a community that appears to widely support the City Hall agenda.
There were three Park City Council seats on the ballot in 2019 with two of the three incumbents running. There was little political chatter in the weeks before the official start of the campaign, and a candidate field emerged that featured the two incumbents and several newcomers.
The most intriguing point of the campaign turned out to be the primary election, when voters were tasked with eliminating one candidate. In the primary election, the sixth and final spot on the November ballot suddenly became in question.
The contest for the sixth spot on the ballot pitted Daniel Lewis, an event organizer, against Chadwick Fairbanks III, a consultant and entrepreneur who had been active in Republican Party politics. A rare recount confirmed a two-vote margin for Lewis, advancing him to Election Day.
Voters in November heavily backed the two incumbents on the ballot — City Councilor Nann Worel and City Councilor Becca Gerber, keeping them in office for another four years. Max Doilney, a businessman, won the other City Council seat and is scheduled to take office in early January. He generally supports the current City Hall agenda.
“I’m excited to get in and start doing the work. I’m not a huge fan of the campaign,” Doilney said after his win.
2. A Marsac Building exit
There was little hint of issues at the Marsac Building by early October.
City Hall staffers appeared to be aggressively pursuing the agenda of Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council, moving forward on difficult items like housing, transportation and sustainability.
Then, in early October, Park City Manager Diane Foster suddenly left the municipal government. The elected officials initiated the personnel move, which was amicable, but the departure was a surprise to the community. There had not been outward indications that a departure was imminent.
Foster had been the city manager since 2013, helping guide Park City through the economic expansion, the final years of the difficult talks about the Treasure development proposal and the arrival of Vail Resorts as the owner of Park City Mountain Resort. She had worked her way up the ranks at the Marsac Building prior to her ascension to the city manager’s office, starting with the municipal government in 2008.
“Even having been terminated without cause, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Foster said in an interview a month after she left the Marsac Building. “It was an awesome seven years.”
Matt Dias, who had been the assistant city manager under Foster, was appointed the interim city manager and in December was named the next city manager. The elected officials are expected to consider an employment agreement with Dias in January.
Foster’s departure overshadowed another high-level City Hall exit announced shortly afterward. Anne Laurent, the community development director, left the Marsac Building in early November to take a post with the Los Alamos County, New Mexico, government, where she worked before arriving in Park City.
1. A turning point
It was not an April Fools’ Day prank at Park City High School on April 1 as emergency responders rushed to the scene.
Someone had intentionally released pepper spray in a lecture hall just hours before the nationally known conservative Will Witt was scheduled to speak that evening in the same room. The high school’s chapter of Turning Point USA, a group that rallies conservative students across the country, had scheduled the appearance.
The release of the pepper spray forced the evacuation of the school as some of the people inside — students and teachers — complained of respiratory distress. Fourteen people were treated at the scene. One person required hospitalization. The gathering was moved to Ecker Hill Middle School.
The authorities determined a senior at Park City High School was responsible for the release of the pepper spray. The student, 17 at the time, was referred to juvenile court on 18 counts. The teen later acknowledged releasing the pepper spray in an effort to prevent the Turning Point USA event, admitting to four of the counts.
The judge’s sentence included ordering the teen to perform 100 hours of community service, demanding an essay about civility and requiring a letter of apology to one of the police officers who responded. Restitution was also ordered. The student at the time of sentencing read a statement indicating sorrow for the effects of the action he took against the gathering.
The news of the release of the pepper spray in Park City spread in conservative circles throughout the country. President Trump in July spoke about the case at a summit hosted by Turning Point USA. It was an extraordinarily rare mention of a Park City issue or event by a president.
“Earlier this year, in Park City, Utah, a leftist released pepper spray into a high school auditorium to shut down a Turning Point USA meeting,” Trump said. “Twenty students and teachers had to immediately seek major medical attention. Think of that.”
One of the leaders in the Turning Point USA chapter at the high school, Ryan Zink, appeared on stage with Trump. Zink offered brief remarks alongside those of the president.
“I do believe the free speech in our schools is currently at stake. Us conservative students — there are many cases: myself, some other people that I’ve met here, and across the country — are being silenced, are being shut down by — whether it be their schools, teachers, friends. We’re not being listened to properly. And our voices need to be proudly expressed. And we cannot be silenced,” Zink said.
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