Park City approves $64 million Treasure buyout
February 16, 2018
Park City leaders on Thursday night approved an agreement to acquire the Treasure land in a $64 million deal, a purchase that must now be put to voters to raise the eight-figure sum needed to finalize what would be, by a wide margin, the most expensive conservation purchase in the history of City Hall's lauded open space program.
The Park City Council's unanimous vote was anticipated. It was the elected officials themselves who negotiated the acquisition of the hotly disputed land. The nearly 105 acres are located on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift. The land is under the ownership of the Treasure partnership, consisting of the Sweeney family and a firm called Park City II, LLC. The Sweeney family was the historic owner of the land and later sold a 50 percent stake to Park City II, LLC, which is led by a businesswoman named Elizabeth Rad.
The partnership has spent more than a decade in discussions with the Park City Planning Commission about a development proposal encompassing approximately 1 million square feet. There has been opposition to the proposal throughout the discussions as critics worried about issues like traffic increases, the size of the buildings and the required excavation. Park City's elected leadership intervened in the late stages of the Planning Commission discussions to reach the $64 million agreement. The Planning Commission at the time appeared to be preparing to cast a vote against the project.
The City Council on Thursday approved a purchase and sale agreement as well as a settlement agreement, which addresses the steps that would occur should voters reject the ballot measure and the partnership returns to the Planning Commission to continue the discussions about the development proposal.
"This is what the bulk of the public wants," Mayor Andy Beerman said just before the City Council cast the vote, to applause.
City Hall must forward a $6 million payment to the partnership as a result of the action on Thursday. The sum would be put toward the acquisition if the ballot measure passes in November funding the rest of the deal. The $6 million would be used to reduce Treasure by 10 percent if voters reject the ballot measure.
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The elected officials in the spring and early summer will hold detailed discussions about the financing of the deal. The ballot measure is expected to be priced at between $50 million and $55 million. The City Council during the upcoming budget talks will consider alternatives for the remainder, including shifting funds from capital projects like a planned plaza in the Brew Pub lot on Main Street.
City Hall estimates a successful $50 million ballot measure would result in a $200 increase in taxes annually on a primary residence valued at $768,000. A vacation home or commercial property with the same value would be charged an additional $364 annually, according to City Hall. A successful $55 million ballot measure would cost the owner of a primary residence with the same value $220 annually while the annual increase would be $399 on a vacation home or commercial property valued at $768,000. The bond is anticipated to be repaid over a 15-year span.
The elected officials received testimony in support of the decision to put the acquisition to voters. The mayor, in a departure from typical City Council chambers decorum, allowed applause. He normally prohibits applause in an effort to ensure others in the room who may not agree with the majority are not intimidated.
"So much gratitude and appreciation by all parties involved," said Brian Van Hecke, a leader in the opposition to the Treasure development proposal.
Van Hecke said an acquisition would uphold Park City values like preserving open space and creating a sustainable community. He compared Treasure to Bonanza Flat, the high-altitude land in Wasatch County that City Hall led the efforts to protect for conservation purposes. Van Hecke said a Treasure acquisition would be beneficial decades into the future. He acknowledged, though, the Treasure price tag is a "big ask" of the community.
The Treasure ballot measure is almost certain to enliven the election season in Park City. There are no Park City elected offices on the ballot in November, meaning that voters in the city may concentrate on Treasure alongside the county, state and federal contests. It seems likely the backers of the acquisition will rally in an organized fashion in support of the ballot measure's passage. They appear to be crafting arguments centered on what they see as community-wide benefits should the land be acquired, including the preservation of one of Park City's most visible hillsides. But there have been hints of opposition recently as well as critics concentrate on the tax increase.