Park City Planning Commission rules against PCMR lift upgrades

Commissioners reject permit needed for Eagle and Silverlode Express work

The Park City Planning Commission moved to uphold an appeal of an administrative conditional-use permit that would have allowed for upgrades to the Eagle and Silverlode Express lifts at Park City Mountain Resort in a 3-1 vote on Wednesday..
Park Record file photo

The Park City Planning Commission moved to uphold an appeal of an administrative conditional-use permit that would have allowed for upgrades to the Eagle and Silverlode Express lifts at Park City Mountain Resort in a 3-1 vote on Wednesday.

Lingering questions and new points raised at the last meeting led commissioners to ask PCMR officials for clarification and ultimately delayed the decision. This week, the Planning Commission heard from ski industry consultants who attempted to explain their research into what is known as a resort’s comfortable carrying capacity, but the majority were not satisfied with the rationale.

Planning Commissioners Laura Suesser and John Kenworthy were vocal in their support of upholding the appeal and explained they saw the proposal as inconsistent with a 1998 development agreement with the resort, which includes a mountain upgrade plan and outlines growth at the resort base. The agreement states lift upgrades are to be reviewed administratively, rather than through the typical Planning Commission process, if six criteria are met.

The group that filed the appeal — Clive Bush, Angela Moschetta, Deborah Rentfrow and Mark Stemler — argue criteria one and six, which call for consistency with the mountain upgrade plan and a sufficient parking plan, are not met. They also made 11 arguments in the filing to support their claim that Park City Planning Director Gretchen Milliken didn’t have the authority to grant an administrative conditional-use permit.

Suesser agreed there are inconsistencies with the mountain upgrade plan and the location of the proposed lift upgrades on the 1990s-era map. She said she agreed with granting the appeal because the criteria in the development agreement were not met.

Similarly, Kenworthy said he sees the project as creating new lifts rather than as a replacement, which means it should have gone before the Planning Commission for consideration. He also indicated he was hesitant to support the project because the comfortable carrying capacity numbers keep changing and said the plan to mitigate parking wasn’t sufficient.

“I found that the paid parking mitigation used comparables that weren’t satisfactory. I find that Alta and Beaver Creek just aren’t comparables to what we have here as a community as well as access and controls on parking and mitigation. So, I don’t find that they are comparables,” Kenworthy said. “The [PCMR] lease on the high school parking lot is eight days a month, I see, and we have a seven-day-a-week parking problem – so that was a big one for me. And eight days a month, we’re way over that right now.”

PCMR’s proposal called for replacing the current Eagle and Eaglet lifts with a high-speed, six-person detachable lift. The resort also wanted to upgrade Silverlode Express from a six-person to an eight-person, high-speed lift.

Kenworthy initially made a motion of continuance to allow time to tighten the conditions of approval for the upgrades, but later motioned to grant the appeal.

Planning Commissioner Sarah Hall said she believed the criteria were met, even if she didn’t agree with them. She made a motion to deny the appeal, which did not receive a second. Last week, she and Planning Commissioner Bill Johnson indicated they would be poised to side with Planning Department staff in denying the appeal if discrepancies about comfortable carrying capacity were clearly explained.

But on Wednesday, after explanations from the experts, Johnson was still mulling the decision over. He said he was conflicted on the proposal because of how comfortable carrying capacity is calculated and utilized in planning, and that it was one of the toughest decisions he’s had to make as a member of the panel. After voting in favor of the appeal, Johnson said, his decision came down to the alignment of the ski lifts in the submitted proposal compared to the mountain upgrade plan.

“I don’t think it’s down to flipping a coin, but I’m just having a hard time going either way,” he said. “This is one that I’m struggling with, but I do see both sides.”

Planning Commissioner Christin Van Dine said she would refrain from voting because she was not present during a four-hour discussion of the appeal last week. Chair John Phillips indicated last Wednesday he was in favor of denying the appeal, but he doesn’t vote unless there’s a tie.

Mike Goar, who until recently was the vice president and chief operating officer at PCMR and remains at parent company Vail Resorts in a new role, on Wednesday asked the Planning Commission to split the Silverlode Express discussion from the one centered on the Eagle lift, as much of the debate was about the Eagle lift. He indicated last week doing so would move the project forward so construction could begin before next winter, but the planning commissioners didn’t support dividing the lift upgrades into two separate discussions.

Deirdra Walsh, who succeeded Goar at PCMR, said in a prepared statement she was disappointed, confused and concerned by the Planning Commission’s decision, which means the lift upgrades will not occur before the 2022-2023 season.

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