As Treasure returns, critics seize on hillside ‘monstrosity’
The Treasure partnership on Wednesday night restarted its talks with the Park City Planning Commission, drawing a large crowd of opponents who seized on long-held concerns during the first hearing about the project since 2010.
The Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday — shifted from the Park City Council chambers at the Marsac Building to the more spacious Santy Auditorium at the Park City Library to accommodate a larger crowd — drew a little more than 100 people. The crowd appeared to be jammed with Treasure critics, and testimony was heavily weighted against the project.
It was an important meeting for the Planning Commission, the Treasure side and the crowd as it marked the beginning of what is likely the final round of talks between the developers and the Planning Commission in a discussion that has stretched on and off since 2004. The Planning Commission was not prepared on Wednesday to delve into the details of the Treasure proposal, which involves approximately 1 million square feet on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift.
"The same basic monstrosity," Brian Van Hecke, the leader of a Treasure opposition group called Treasure Hill Impact Neighborhood Coalition, said during the hearing as he compared the project to other iterations considered in the past.
Van Hecke said he earlier had faith a compromise would be reached, but none was negotiated and the project remains as it was. He said a new study of Treasure-related traffic is needed, contended that the project would be a sprawling complex and said there would be "massive scarring" of the hillside.
"Treasure Hill, if approved, would likely ruin Park City," Van Hecke said to applause from the audience.
The hearing touched on issues that have dogged the Treasure proposal since the early days of the talks more than a decade ago. Concerns especially remain about the traffic Treasure would draw to the neighborhood and the size of the project, which critics say will dwarf the houses on nearby Old Town roads. Treasure would appear as if it is 13 separate buildings on the hillside but would be connected underground. The design would reach toward 100 feet in height.
The Sweeney family secured an overall development approval for the Treasure land and nearby parcels in the 1980s. The land is now owned by a partnership consisting of the Sweeney family and an investor called Park City II, LLC. Other parcels that were part of the overall approval have been built upon over the years, but the bulk of the development rights are attached to the Treasure land. The Treasure proposal involves approximately 200 hotel rooms, approximately 100 condominiums, commercial spaces, conference space and square footage meant to support the operations of a lodging property.
The Planning Commission meeting drew two Park City Councilors — Andy Beerman and Becca Gerber — as well as Park City Manager Diane Foster. The crowd appeared to come from disparate neighborhoods, but the core of the opposition has been people who live in Old Town.
The Planning Commission received testimony from 13 people during a hearing that lasted approximately 40 minutes. Critics broached a range of topics given the broad nature of the first meeting since 2010. Later hearings will likely be more focused on individual topics as the Planning Commission starts the detailed discussions.
Owen Weinman, another critic and the son of prominent Park City development watchdog Rich Wyman, labeled Treasure a "monstrosity." He said the designs are too tall and claimed the commercial and convention square footage proposed has grown over time. Weinman, who lives in Prospector, wondered whether the Sweeney family wants to be "the most hated name next to Vail." It was a reference to Vail Resorts, the Colorado-based owner of Park City Mountain Resort, which has been criticized locally for various corporate decisions, including pursuing a trademark for the words ‘Park City.’
Bill Humbert, a Park Meadows resident, said the upward of 1 million square feet proposed for Treasure could be too much development for the site. He questioned the impact on the environment and noted the decades between the initial approval and today.
"Times have changed since the 1980s," Humbert said.
John Plunkett, who lives in Old Town, contended it was self-serving for the Sweeney family to set aside land as open space years ago as part of Treasure since the acreage is ski terrain that is seen as important to the development. Plunkett said the design of Treasure appears to be a "Miami Beach-style" hotel.
Ed Parigian, another Old Town resident, like Weinman, called the project a "monstrosity." He claimed the developers treat "all of us locals like dollar bills."
Dana Williams, who served as the mayor of Park City for three terms ending in early 2014, also addressed the Planning Commission. Williams was a key figure as a former set of Park City’s elected officials unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a conservation deal for all or some of the Treasure acreage. Williams, who lives in Prospector, told the Planning Commission he was confident during the conservation negotiations that a deal would be reached. Williams urged the Planning Commission to review City Hall’s 1980s-era detailed development rules as Treasure is processed, indicating attention must be paid to what some refer to as back-of-house square footage. That type of square footage oftentimes refers to space needed to operate a lodging property that does not fall into more prominent categories like residential or commercial.
"Time to get creative," Williams said.
The Planning Commissioners did not deliberate in any depth on Wednesday. The panel members are anticipated to hold detailed talks at upcoming meetings. The Planning Commission, it appears, will address Treasure at a pace of one meeting per month. Douglas Thimm, a Planning Commissioner, indicated he wants to address the square footage of Treasure early in the series of meetings. Bruce Erickson, the planning director, said staffers expect the square footage will be among the first topics to be detailed.
The next Planning Commission dealing with Treasure is tentatively scheduled on July 13. The building designs, including square footages, are expected to be a highlight of the July 13 meeting.
‘A deal is a deal’
Pat Sweeney, who represents his family in the Treasure talks, said in an interview afterward the opposition comments were not a surprise. He said the testimony was similar to that of previous hearings.
"I don’t know how many people will change their mind. We’re going to try," Sweeney said, adding there are Treasure supporters who do not testify at Planning Commission meetings.
He commended Adam Strachan, the chair of the Planning Commission, for his performance presiding over the meeting.
Sweeney, meanwhile, argued the family agreed to a compromise on Treasure in the 1980s through the design of the project. He said the family agreed to cluster the development at the base of the hillside at that time and much of the hillside itself was set aside from development.
David Bennion, an attorney for the Treasure side, outlined the development approach crafted during the 1980s approval process in his comments to the Planning Commission. Bennion said 120 acres of land was preserved as open space as part of the talks in the 1980s. The Sweeney family opted to cluster the development at the base instead of building 125 houses on the hillside, Bennion said as he reviewed the history of Treasure, explaining the family gave up "millions of dollars of property" in designing Treasure over the years.
Bennion said the Treasure side met its side of the bargain reached in the 1980s and there will be consequences if City Hall does not honor its side.
"A deal is a deal," he said, regardless of the changes to Park City in the intervening years.
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Park City Council members have directed staffers to continue working on a plan to develop affordable housing on a site 1 ½ miles south of City Hall on Marsac Avenue. Staffers are recommending the city release a request for proposals (RFP) to find interested entities to participate in a public-private partnership to build the project.