On record against Treasure, now on the Planning Commission
Treasure by early in 2009 had already become the most disputed development idea in Park City since the hard-fought approval of what would be built as Empire Pass a decade earlier.
The Treasure proposal by then had spurred an opposition movement and drawn large crowds to Park City Planning Commission meetings, primarily in opposition, with little apparent progress toward a compromise, or a vote. The proposal, upward of 1 million square feet of development on a highly visible hillside overlooking Old Town on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort, left some unhappy enough to submit letters to City Hall detailing their displeasure.
Two letters submitted in January of 2009 and forwarded to the Planning Commission in anticipation of a meeting about the development the next month are of special note as the Treasure partnership prepares to return to the panel after a hiatus that has stretched since 2010.
The two correspondences were written by Treasure critics who would later be named to the seven-person Planning Commission. Steve Joyce was appointed to the panel in 2013 while Laura Suesser joined the Planning Commission in February. Both of them are anticipated to be at the dais as the Treasure discussions restart shortly at the request of the partnership, consisting of the Sweeney family, which is the traditional owner of the land, and an investor.
The correspondences broach topics that the Treasure opposition had repeatedly addressed regarding the project, which dates to a 1980s overall approval that involved the Treasure acreage itself and nearby pieces of land. They provide rare insight into the thinking, at least at one point, of two future members of the Planning Commission who could be asked to cast a momentous vote on Treasure. But the letters could also be cited by Treasure supporters as evidence of the two Planning Commissioners having preconceived opinions of the project.
The Joyce and Suesser letters were part of a cache of correspondences sent to City Hall in opposition to the project that were made public at the time.
Suesser’s submittal, dated Jan. 7, 2009, was the first of the two. She sent a two-page correspondence to a member of the Planning Commission. It was then forwarded to the Park City Planning Department and distributed publicly.
Suesser dissected parts of Treasure, describing that information was needed about a series of topics like trails, the phasing of the project and whether Treasure would be compatible with the neighborhood. She also addressed the timeline, saying that it should be posted or otherwise be made available to the public. Suesser noted that a City Hall report indicated 23 Treasure meetings had been held.
"The Planning Commission has to do its job and protect the public’s interest with regard to this substantial development proposed for this community," Suesser wrote. "The Planning Commission should not feel pressure to work through this application quickly especially given the magnitude of this project. Just b/c there have been 23 meetings doesn’t mean the Planning Commission isn’t working efficiently."
She also said the Treasure side "surely came to the table a number of times with insufficient details on their project." Suesser, meanwhile, indicated the Planning Commission had "to work through all the details to determine if the project is appropriate; particularly in light of the significant development in the adjacent community."
The submittal by Joyce, sent on Jan. 17, 2009 to the City Hall planner assigned to Treasure at that point, was more emotionally charged than the one written by Suesser. Joyce was blunt at times in his assessment of the Treasure proposal, calling the project "what appears to be the biggest blight yet." He said the look of Treasure and the traffic would be problematic.
"That mountainside is probably the most visible piece of mountain in Park City. It connects straight into the Main Street area and is part of what people view as the town," Joyce wrote. "The plans I have seen result in that mountainside being torn up and replaced with large buildings, completely inconsistent with anything in that part of town."
Joyce wrote about traffic concerns, suggesting that members of the Planning Commission should drive through the neighborhood on a snowy day as skiers and snowboarders are leaving Park City Mountain Resort.
"I hope that the planning commission will be responsible in protecting the town of Park City. Treasure Hill should be scaled back so that isn’t such a giant blemish on such a visible piece of town," Joyce said in the message. "Just designing the buildings with pretty architectural details isn’t enough. They should fit the appearance and scale of Old Town. They should also be forced to offer a SOLUTION to the additional traffic they would add. Not a patch. Not an excuse. A solution."
In an interview in 2014 centered on the correspondence, Joyce said he will fairly consider the Treasure proposal regardless of the opinions he expressed in the 2009 correspondence. He said sometimes personal opinions must be set aside and he would be able to do so as a member of the Planning Commission. Suesser declined to comment regarding her correspondence, saying members of the Planning Commission are not to discuss applications outside formal meetings.
The Planning Commission vote is anticipated to be one of the most important cast by the panel in years given the size and breadth of the Treasure proposal. There will also be added consequence to the Planning Commission decision since a past Park City Council removed itself and future elected officials from serving as the body that would hear any appeal of the lower panel’s Treasure vote. The earlier City Council unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a conservation deal for all or some of the Treasure acreage, requiring that the elected officials not be the appeal body to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Any appeal will instead be put to a three-person panel selected by the City Council.
Treasure wants ‘a fair shake’
A member of the Sweeney family said in an interview he did not have firsthand knowledge of the messages from Joyce and Suesser.
Pat Sweeney, the family’s lead representative in the Treasure discussions with City Hall, said in an interview he does not want to "judge them on that not knowing the facts."
"What we have to do is trust that they will give us a fair shake. At this point we trust they will do that," Sweeney said, adding that City Hall has a "duty to make that a fair process."
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