Park City Treasure deal opponents sharpen case in first gathering
An event organized by an opponent of the Park City ballot measure that would raise most of the funds to acquire Treasure in a conservation deal touched on a wide range of topics on Wednesday evening, offering at least some level of counterbalance to a well-mobilized effort in support of the measure as well as sharpening the case against the agreement.
The event drew approximately 15 people to Crystal Park Cantina on Main Street as tensions mounted in what is widely seen as the most important decision on the ballot inside Park City. Although it was not a large crowd, the event covered many of the crucial issues of the Treasure ballot measure. The event is also believed to be the first public gathering organized by an opponent.
Mark Stemler, an Old Town resident and a Main Street building owner, arranged the gathering on Wednesday. He supports the acquisition of the Treasure land for conservation purposes but opposes the $48 million ballot measure designed to raise most of the funds for the $64 million deal.
Stemler in recent weeks has argued there are other options, including, notably, the prospects of City Hall acquiring the land in an eminent domain case against the Treasure partnership. Others dispute his understanding of state laws regarding government seizure of land through eminent domain, and the topic has not been an overriding issue in the campaign.
The event at times moved abruptly from issue to issue as people with various ideas about Treasure and the ballot measure provided comments or asked questions. There were back-and-forth statements between crowd members and Stemler at some points and, at other points, crowd members engaged each other as Stemler attempted to officiate. Stemler early on conducted a straw poll that showed the crowd was nearly evenly split between supporters and opponents of the ballot measure.
Stemler told the audience there is peer pressure in Park City to vote ‘Yes’ but said he is aware of people with yard signs in support of the ballot measure who intend to cast a ‘No’ vote. He said the deal, which would be, by a wide margin, the most expensive conservation acquisition in Park City’s history, is “excessive and indulgent.” He said the dollar figure is an “absurd amount” of money.
If the ballot measure fails, Stemler said, there would be an opportunity to renegotiate a different agreement. He said, perhaps, a deal could be reached to allow a development resembling The Colony at Park City Mountain Resort that would preserve much of the Treasure acreage while bringing the overall price of an acquisition down.
“Vote ‘No’ and make this thing reset itself,” Stemler said.
Stemler, meanwhile, addressed the affordability of Park City, another issue broached by the opposition to the ballot measure. He said Park City’s cost of living is the highest in Utah as he moved to comments about the city’s renters. Owners in Park City would increase rents to cover the cost of the tax increase tied to a successful ballot measure, he said.
“I’m not going to subsidize these guys,” he said.
The points regarding the prospects of an eminent domain case involving the Treasure land drew some in the audience into an especially robust talk. Eminent domain allows a government to seize private property at a certain price if it is deemed to be needed for a public benefit. Eminent domain had not been a major topic in the Treasure talks until the opposition to the ballot measure solidified recently.
Future Park City activist Angela Moschetta challenged Stemler on issues that included the idea of bringing an eminent domain case. Moschetta said attorneys who specialize in land-use laws do not see eminent domain as an option in the case of Treasure. But Stemler a little bit earlier claimed the eminent domain laws are strong in Utah. He said an eminent domain case “will work.”
At another point Moschetta and Stemler confronted one another rapidly on topics like whether Stemler sees the deal as having been negotiated in a vacuum and whether Stemler would support or oppose a future ballot measure expected to be put to voters in the Park City School District. Stemler responded that a School District ballot measure would offer better benefits for the price. Stemler confronted Moschetta with a line of questioning that appeared to probe what sort of impact a successful ballot measure for Treasure would have on her finances.
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