Park City holds grueling talk about Old Town event space
Dispute about former art center site emblematic of wider concerns
March 31, 2017
The Park City Council on Thursday night held a grueling meeting about a developer's proposal to operate an event space at the former location of the Kimball Art Center, opting to send the issue back to a lower panel amid a wide-ranging community debate closely watched by Old Town dwellers, businesspeople with Main Street interests and the preservation community.
The discussion extended well past 10 p.m. as Mayor Jack Thomas and the City Councilors considered their options for the high-profile application to operate an event space. It was not clear until the final moments whether the City Councilors would cast a vote to at least partially deny the event space or whether the issue would be remanded to the Park City Planning Commission for additional discussion. The elected officials eventually supported a motion made by City Councilor Andy Beerman to remand the issue to the Planning Commission. The vote was 5-0.
The City Councilors want the Planning Commission to reconsider issues like traffic, parking and methods that could be employed to reduce the amount of noise that would escape the event space into the surrounding neighborhood. The Planning Commission in December approved the event space on a unanimous vote, but many of the issues addressed on Thursday were also broached by the lower panel.
The Planning Commission-approved permit allowing the event space was put before the City Council as a result of an appeal by two Old Town residents – Sanford Melville and John Stafsholt — and the Park City Historical Society. The appeal also raised concerns about part of the design of the project, but the event space is seen as the emphasis of the challenge of the Planning Commission vote.
The proposal to develop event space at the property has spurred widespread discussion in Park City as various interest groups see the space as being emblematic of a broader community dialog about the impact of the city's busy calendar of special events on the citizenry. There is concern about traffic, noise and the overall loss of peaceful days in Park City as the number of special events has mounted over the years.
The discussion about the historic property also has shown in stark terms the difficulties of developing in heavily restricted Old Town. The Kimball Art Center wanted to expand onto the patio at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue but encountered resistance to ambitious designs that many saw as not fitting along a historic streetscape. The not-for-profit arts organization eventually sold the property to a developer as a result of the unsuccessful attempt to redevelop the site.
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The developer, under the corporate umbrella of a California firm called Columbus Pacific Properties, is redeveloping the property. The work has started, but another permit is needed to operate event space.
"It clarifies where the concerns are. We'll work with the staff to address them. We want to be a good member of the community, too. It's not our goal to be adversarial," Tony Tyler, the developer's representative, said in an interview after the vote.
The Planning Commission-approved permit essentially allows outdoor events at the site and temporary tents to be erected on a terrace that is planned on the roof. The space would hold 480 people for special events. People who live on nearby streets like Park Avenue and Woodside Avenue are worried that the event space would be detrimental as the noise wafts into the surrounding neighborhood and people driving to the location search for parking spots on the residential streets. Melville on Thursday night told the City Council the neighborhood is "potentially the collateral damage."
"How would you like that in your neighborhood," Melville said, contending the steep topography of Old Town works as "a natural amplifier" and people in the outdoor part of the event space would be heard throughout Old Town.
He said the developer did not conduct a traffic study, there was no consideration given to a bus route along Heber Avenue and there would be impacts on emergency and delivery vehicles. Melville argued the event space would not draw people to Main Street shops and restaurants since attendees would head to an event and then leave. He also said the event space's impacts on the neighborhood will "discourage primary-home ownership." There are no public benefits of the event space, Melville said.
Stafsholt said the developer "asked for the world" with the event space. He said it will be profitable if the developer schedules more events and louder ones. He wants live music prohibited, times limited for the outdoor space and the Park City Police Department equipped with sound meters.
But an attorney representing the developer, Wade Budge, outlined a vastly different scenario, saying there were impacts when the property was under the ownership of the Kimball Art Center. Any issues with the proposed event space can be worked through, he said.
"We're not proposing something exotic," Budge said, adding, "This is a use that has been carefully considered."
Tyler told the elected officials he is surprised at the amount of opposition after the Planning Commission crafted a set of conditions on the approval meant to protect the neighborhood.
The mayor and City Council expressed doubts with the proposal, but they were willing to allow the developer to return to the Planning Commission rather than casting a vote overturning the lower panel's decision. The elected officials dwelled on noise and traffic as they weighed options.
City Councilor Tim Henney said the noise from an event space cannot be properly addressed. There would be noise even from conversations with lots of people at an event, he said. The traffic at the location is a "massive bottleneck already," Henney said.
"Main Street's not hurting," he said about business on the popular shopping, dining and entertainment strip, but also noting that Park City itself is suffering with fatigue stemming from the busyness.
Beerman acknowledged there has long been a delicate balance between Old Town residents and Main Street and that balance has tipped "in the wrong direction." He worried about the outdoor section of the proposed event space based on noise.
"You cannot mitigate humans," Beerman said.
Other City Councilors offered similar comments.
The mayor, an architect, meanwhile, addressed the worries about noise from an event space. He said the sound would be reflected into the neighborhood. The developer has not properly dealt with the issue, Thomas said as he also mentioned the traffic.
"It's going to be bouncing sound up the hill," Thomas said.
The audience in the City Council chambers was larger than is typical, but the appeal did not fill the room. The crowd appeared to be split on the issue with the opposition seeming to have mobilized more people on Thursday night. The elected officials received approximately one hour of testimony from 16 people. The opponents outnumbered supporters by a ratio of roughly 3-to-1. The opposition's arguments resembled those made by City Councilors. The arguments were also made during testimony as the Planning Commission cast its vote in December.
Ed Parigian, an Old Town resident, told the mayor and City Council there will be a violation of noise limits "every time that door opens" as he described his opposition to an event space. Niels Vernegaard, another Old Town resident, said he hears activities from the Town Lift Plaza deck at his home. He urged the elected officials to "do what's right" by requiring events be held inside.
Andy Byrne, who also lives in the neighborhood, said traffic and noise has put stress on Old Town. Neighbors have moved, he said. Byrne said people like to open windows in the summer without hearing the noise of an event. He said people driving to an event space will park in the neighborhood rather than at the China Bridge garage.
"The noise does migrate up these hills," Byrne said.
The supporters, though, rattled off topics touching on Main Street's status as an iconic location for events and that a City Hall approval would not allow the developers to harm the neighborhood. Businessman Mike Sweeney, whose family controls the Town Lift Plaza along lower Main Street, testified in favor of the event space, saying the facility is needed. He also said events are not held on a daily basis at the Town Lift Plaza, which is one of the popular spaces along Main Street.
"You can reduce the noise impacts . . . There's ways you can do that," Sweeney said.