Park City man rips Treasure deal as ‘excessive and indulgent’
September 14, 2018
A critic of City Hall's planned acquisition of Treasure in a conservation deal on Thursday questioned the $64 million agreement in remarks to Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council, asking whether the purchase is the best use of taxpayer money.
Mark Stemler's comments were some of the most extensive, and pointed, public statements to date in opposition to a $48 million City Hall ballot measure that would provide the bulk of the funding for the acquisition of Treasure as well as provide a contribution of up to $3 million for an unrelated conservation agreement in Thaynes Canyon known as Snow Ranch Pasture.
Stemler is an Old Town resident and covered a range of topics in his testimony to the elected officials. The mayor and City Council on Thursday took input about the planned acquisition but were not scheduled to make decisions. The elected officials did not respond in any detail. Stemler indicated he opposes the Treasure development proposal even as he questions the ballot measure that would fund an agreement to block the project.
"Can we afford it? Let's assume we can afford it. I don't think it's a question of affordability. If we so choose, we're a wealthy community, sure, we can afford it. The question I ask: should we afford it?" Stemler said.
He said he supported earlier City Hall conservation deals like those involving the McPolin Farm and Bonanza Flat. Stemler, though, mentioned people have labeled the Treasure land an "iconic hill" when, he argued, other hillsides in Park City were seen similarly in the past and have since been built upon.
"When I came here in 1980, April Mountain was an iconic hill. Deer Valley was an iconic hill . . . we can live with development," he said.
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Stemler worried about the $64 million price tag, which would be, by a wide margin, the most expensive conservation acquisition in the history of City Hall's lauded open space program. He said the dollar figure is "excessive and indulgent" and predicted there will be additional conservation deals that will interest City Hall later. He asked, "Don't we have something better to do with our money than this?"
"It's so expensive. It's crazy. We could use our money more effectively. … Everyone says these, oh these, are the last two great pieces. Forget that nonsense. That's not going to happen. There's going to be other projects that we could buy down the density," he also said.
Stemler, meanwhile, addressed the affordability of Park City in the context of the ballot measure should it be successful. City Hall is pressing the overarching ideal of social equity in the community, something that involves the cost of living. Stemler said the tax increase if the ballot measure is successful will lead to higher expenses, such as rent increases and higher priced goods as property owners recoup the higher taxes they pay.
"It goes contrary to the diversification that you guys are trying to do here," Stemler said, adding, "If you want those people to be able to afford to live here, we have to keep things more affordable. Reducing taxes is a big part of that."
Stemler argued there are different priorities in the community that could be funded, mentioning a range of possibilities like transportation upgrades.
"We have other needs. Perhaps we want to put a gondola up to Deer Valley, perhaps we want to put tunnels under our roads. Or, perhaps, if our goal really is to make town more affordable, we don't blow this much money," he said.
He also wondered about a deal that he would consider to be more reasonable, perhaps one that would involve limited development on the Treasure land. He contended the Treasure partnership would provide more time for negotiations with City Hall about a reworked agreement. Stemler also noted the City Hall budget maneuvers as officials considered options to reduce the dollar figure attached to the ballot measure. He wondered why municipal staff reductions were not made as part of the maneuvers.