Park City Treasure dispute: a 14-year saga led to extraordinary vote
August 17, 2018
Park City leaders on Thursday cast an extraordinary vote regarding the long-disputed Treasure land, a move befitting what has been one of the most extraordinary growth discussions in the community's modern era.
The Park City Council, as expected, approved putting a $48 million ballot measure to voters on Election Day. If the ballot measure passes, most of the funding would be earmarked to cover the bulk of the cost of a $64 million conservation agreement that would set aside the Treasure land from development. Voters will make the decision after more than three decades of difficult discussions about the hillside acreage overlooking Old Town along the route of Park City Mountain Resort's Town Lift.
The talks date to the mid-1980s, when leaders of that era granted an overall development approval for the Treasure land and nearby parcels. Construction was long ago completed on some of the other pieces of ground involved in the approval. The Treasure land, holding the largest bloc of development rights granted in the mid-1980s, though, has remained in dispute through the years since an application was filed for the project. An affirmative vote by the Park City Planning Commission is needed beyond the 1980s-era approval for a project to proceed should the ballot measure fail.
The dispute about the development proposal has pitted the Treasure partnership against critics who live on nearby streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue. The Planning Commission, the City Hall panel that holds the authority to approve or reject the proposal, also has expressed deep-rooted concerns.
It has been more than 14 years since City Hall received the application for Treasure, a proposal of upward of 1 million square feet of residences, commercial spaces and convention facilities. The saga covered the post-2002 Winter Olympic boom years, the recession, the lawsuit that led to the sale of PCMR and another growth era as Park City enjoyed a strong exit from the economic downturn.
The years of discussions have involved a series of highly charged meetings and unorthodox procedural moments stretching through various rosters of Planning Commissions and City Councils as well as three mayoral administrations.
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Some of the highlights include:
• January 2004: the Sweeney family, the traditional owner of the land, files the Treasure application at City Hall, launching what would become the polarizing debate about the project. In an interview shortly afterward, Pat Sweeney, who represents the family in the Treasure discussions, says the development could begin construction in 2005 and take a decade to complete. It is quickly evident, though, the process would stretch much longer than that projection. During the first public hearing about Treasure, held that spring, critics seized on issues like traffic and the noise, topics that would follow Treasure through the years of hearings.
• late 2006: a firm called Park City II, LLC acquires a 50 percent stake in Treasure from other investors who partnered with the Sweeney family in the 1970s. The acquisition created the Treasure partnership that has been engaged with City Hall through the crucial stretches of the discussions. Elizabeth Rad, a real estate figure who has worked in Southern Utah, leads the firm. Rad has been represented at Treasure meetings but does not appear herself.
• late 2008: Treasure files revamped plans for the project after an initial round of criticism about the first set of blueprints led to a stall in the talks, essentially the first of several gaps in the discussions. The Sweeney family expresses optimism the revamped plans would win support, saying the Planning Commission could be prepared to cast a vote as early as the middle of 2009.
• February 2009: the revamped Treasure plans draw a large crowd to a Planning Commission meeting, which was moved to conference space at a hotel to accommodate the audience. The crowd is weighted heavily against the project, an early indication that future hearings would tilt toward the opposition. The speakers continue to press topics like traffic.
• March 2009: the City Council appoints a special counsel to dissect the 1980s approval involving the Treasure land and nearby parcels. The appointment followed numerous questions about the details of the 1980s approval and whether that approval contemplated a project like the one sought by the Treasure partnership years later. The special counsel, Jody Burnett, would remain involved on behalf of City Hall should the ballot measure be voted down.
• June 2010: Treasure requests a suspension in the talks with the Planning Commission, a move that was intended to provide time for the partnership and City Hall to attempt to reach a conservation agreement for the land. It seemed there was a possibility at that time that some sort of agreement could be negotiated, perhaps to preserve the land outright or reduce the scope of the project by transferring some of the development rights to other land deemed more suitable for growth. By that time, the City Council had already removed itself as the body that would hear an expected appeal of a Planning Commission vote on Treasure. Doing so allowed the elected officials to attempt to negotiate a conservation deal.
• December 2011: the Treasure partnership prices a buyout at nearly $93 million, a dollar figure so high that City Hall's leadership at the time abandons the idea of negotiating a conservation deal. The City Hall side claims the price is not based on the market while the Treasure side says it is not surprised the municipality did not pursue a deal at that figure. A lull in the discussions follows.
• March 2014: the long-running negotiations between City Hall and the Treasure side about some sort of conservation deal collapse in dramatic fashion. The sides say they attempted to reach an agreement on an alternative, but one could not be negotiated. The collapse leads to another round of discussions with the Planning Commission about the development proposal.
• June 2016: the Planning Commission holds its first hearing about Treasure in six years, drawing a large crowd of opponents who seized on long-held concerns like traffic and the overall size of the project. Several people call the proposal a "monstrosity."
• March 2017: the Treasure partnership, in another dramatic moment, tells the Planning Commission it intends to essentially force a vote later that year through a clause in state code that allows such a maneuver. The statement heightens an already tense stretch in the Treasure talks.
• November 2017: the Planning Commission signals it could cast a vote at a meeting in the middle of December. It would be the most significant vote by a Planning Commission since the 1990s-era decision about the development that would be built as Empire Pass. The possibility of a vote the following month left the sides in the dispute preparing what would be their closing arguments after more than a decade of talks.
• December 2017: Park City's elected officials reach a tentative agreement to acquire half of the Treasure development rights in a $30 million conservation deal, a sudden breakthrough announced as it appeared the Planning Commission was readying for a vote on the development proposal. The Treasure partnership under the agreement would rework the project to involve a boutique hotel and 18 houses, greatly scaled back from the proposal that was before the Planning Commission. The $30 million deal would depend on a $24 million ballot measure that would be put to voters in November 2018. Some remain concerned the agreement allows a development to proceed.
• January 2018: City Hall and the Treasure partnership indicate they have reached a $64 million conservation agreement for the land and attached development rights. The deal depends on a ballot measure to raise most of the funds. It would be, by a wide margin, the most expensive conservation deal in Park City's history.
• Spring and summer 2018: Park City leaders dwell on Treasure funding through the annual City Hall budget season and then continue to consider options afterward as they attempt to reduce the number that will be attached to the ballot measure. The elected officials ultimately opt for a $48 million figure with a small amount of the funds to be put toward a contribution to an unrelated conservation agreement in Thaynes Canyon if voters approve the ballot measure.
• August 2018: the City Council approves a resolution putting the $48 million Treasure ballot measure to voters on Election Day in November.