Park City Treasure deal, in first test, garners support peppered with concern
City Hall’s tentative agreement to acquire half of the Treasure development rights received broad support peppered with a few concerns at a Wednesday night meeting of the Park City Planning Commission, likely an early preview of what is expected to be an intense, community-wide discussion in coming months as sides craft arguments for or against a ballot measure to fund a deal if one is pursued.
The Planning Commission meeting was held one day after Park City leaders announced they had reached the $30 million deal with the Treasure side. The meeting was anticipated to be a crucial gathering about Treasure even before the Tuesday announcement of the agreement. The Planning Commission up until Tuesday had been expected on Wednesday to signal which way it would vote on the hotly disputed project, with a vote possible by the end of the year. The prospects of an agreement, though, overshadowed the meeting. The Planning Commission met at the Santy Auditorium rather than the Park City Council chambers to accommodate a large crowd that included Treasure opponents, elected officials and City Hall watchers.
The Planning Commission opted to delay additional discussions about Treasure until an undetermined date. The delay allows the elected officials and the Treasure side to continue the discussions about the acquisition. The deal would involve the Sweeney family’s 50 percent stake in Treasure while the other partner in the project, a firm known as Park City II, LLC, would retain its holdings. If City Hall finalizes the acquisition, the project would be reworked into a significantly smaller development. The acquisition would depend on Park City voters in November of 2018 authorizing a $24 million ballot measure to fund most of the cost with the remainder coming from the City Hall budget. A $6 million initial payment would be required shortly. The $6 million would be put toward the purchase if it is finalized or toward a 10 percent reduction of the project if it is not.
The Treasure partnership’s current proposal involves approximately 1 million square feet of development on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift. The Sweeney family secured overall development rights on the land and nearby parcels in the 1980s, but another approval is needed before the project could proceed. A reworked development if a City Hall acquisition is finalized would encompass a boutique hotel and 18 houses.
The Planning Commission meeting was the first opportunity for the public to provide testimony about the agreement. The panel received one hour of comments about Treasure. The hearing differed from numerous other ones about Treasure, focusing on processes rather than the details of the development itself. The Treasure opposition provided much of the testimony, but speakers who have traditionally offered criticism about the project seemed to support the discussions about an acquisition.
Brian Van Hecke, a leader in the Treasure opposition who is involved in the Treasure Hill Impact Neighborhood Coalition, thanked City Hall officials for their efforts. He said the opposition understands the Treasure partnership has development rights, adding that the group wants the land protected from development with fair compensation to the partnership.
“The question is what is fair,” he said about the development rights.
Van Hecke provided some of the crucial comments during the hearing, speaking about a warming climate as he addressed Treasure. He also said officials need to consider growth issues in the vicinity of Treasure, such as the eventual development of the Park City Mountain Resort parking lots.
“We need to think through this universally,” he said.
He said the opposition does not want a conference center included in a reworked project and said the so-called back-of-house square footage, which is the space needed to operate a high-end lodging property, remains a concern.
Speakers in support of the proposed acquisition included Liza Simpson, who is a former member of the City Council, and Bonanza Park developer Mark J. Fischer. Simpson said she is thrilled with the deal and that the negotiations will allow a new design to be vetted. Fischer noted that Mayor Jack Thomas and Mayor-elect Andy Beerman, who is a member of the City Council, support the agreement. The mayor and Beerman were in attendance to brief the Planning Commission about the tentative agreement.
There were also comments of caution regarding a ballot measure that would be required to raise the $24 million. The comments could foreshadow some of the arguments against a ballot measure even as the speakers on Wednesday said they would be supporters.
John Stafsholt, a Treasure opponent, told the Planning Commission voters may not approve a ballot measure to fund a deal if the agreement involves just half of the development rights. Joe Kernan, another former City Councilor, said he would back a ballot measure, but he predicted the results would be close. Annie Lewis Garda, who lives close to the project land and opposes the project, noted a Treasure-related ballot measure would be put before Park City voters after they already approved $25 million to acquire Bonanza Flat for conservation purposes and amid discussions about a significant Park City School District bond that could be put on a ballot.
Planning Commissioners dwelled on issues like timing as they considered options, a departure from what they anticipated for the meeting prior to the announcement of the agreement. The panel had been expected to spend significant time on Wednesday debating a set of findings that would have been needed to support a vote. Planning Commissioners have long expressed concerns about issues like traffic and the size of the buildings, and a ‘Nay’ vote seemed likely before the end of the year.
Steve Joyce, a Planning Commissioner who will leave the panel to take a seat on the City Council in early January, said the agreement has the potential to address many of the Planning Commission’s concerns about a project at the hillside location. Joyce also said the community would be unhappy if Treasure is ultimately decided through a lawsuit against City Hall. He received applause. Douglas Thimm, another Planning Commissioner, said the agreement would give the public a “meaningful way to control the density.”
Adam Strachan, the Planning Commission chair, meanwhile, said it would be a “power play” by the panel if it casts a vote as the other Treasure process is underway.
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Arlene Loble served as the Park City manager in the 1980s, a pivotal period that prepared the community for the boom years that would follow in the 1990s. Loble, who recently died, is credited with introducing a level of professionalism to the municipal government that was needed amid the growth challenges.