Treasure may already be October surprise of Park City’s election
A looming vote on project could influence the City Hall campaign
March 14, 2017
The Park City Planning Commission could be forced to cast a momentous vote in October on the polarizing Treasure development proposal.
And less than a month later, people in Park City themselves will cast a momentous vote as they decide who holds the mayor's office and two seats on the Park City Council.
Treasure, indeed, may have already become the October surprise of Campaign 2017, three months before the election season officially begins.
The Treasure development partnership indicated at a Planning Commission meeting earlier in March it wants the panel to cast a vote in October after more than a decade of on-and-off discussions about the project. It was an unexpected statement by the Treasure side and one that will likely add urgency to the debate about the project as the summer arrives and the middle of fall begins to loom.
The Treasure partnership, consisting of the Sweeney family and a firm known as Park City II, LLC, invoked a section in state code as it outlined the desire for a vote in October. The code section allows a landowner to request a vote and requires a governmental body like the Planning Commission to make the decision within 45 days of the request. It is extraordinarily rare for the section of code to be invoked locally.
The October timeline outlined by the Treasure side would put a Planning Commission vote in the final weeks of the election, something that will almost certainly add intrigue to the City Hall campaign even if none of the members of the Planning Commission is running for the mayor's office or a spot on the City Council.
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The Planning Commission meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, putting the October meetings on Oct. 11 and Oct. 25. The first meeting of October is scheduled less than a month before Election Day, which is Nov. 7, while the second meeting of the month is slated less than two weeks before voters head to the polls.
Treasure is the most controversial development proposal in Park City since the 1990s-era discussions about the project that would later be built as Empire Pass. The Treasure side holds development rights on the land, located on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift, dating to the 1980s and needs another permit to move forward with the project. Critics, especially those on Old Town streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue, argue the Treasure designs do not fit with the historic district and traffic headed to and from the project would overwhelm neighborhood streets. The proposal involves upward of 1 million square feet.
Growth and development have been crucial campaign issues in Park City for decades as candidates outlined platforms involving slowing growth, responsible growth and related planks. It would be highly unusual, though, for voters in Park City to head to the polls just weeks after a major development decision is made.
Treasure has been politicized during City Hall campaigns over the years, most notably during the hotly contested 2009 election. The mayoral race that year between two-term incumbent Dana Williams and Brad Olch, who served three terms in the city's highest office immediately preceding Williams, was especially pointed as the challenger seized on the dispute about Treasure.
The candidates in 2017 for the mayor's office and the two City Council seats on the ballot, it seems, would be made to address Treasure if it appears that a Planning Commission vote is nearing in October. It probably would not matter that the terms of the winners do not start until January, nearly three months after a potential Treasure vote. The campaign chatter about Treasure would also be expected even though the mayor and City Council will not have a role in the dispute about the project. An earlier slate of elected officials removed themselves and future City Councils as the appeal body on an expected appeal of the Planning Commission's vote on Treasure as they unsuccessfully sought a conservation deal for the land. The incumbents and, certainly, challengers would not be blocked from speaking freely about Treasure based on concern about ensuring they appear impartial in the dispute. There would be added intrigue if a member of the Planning Commission, long a springboard to elected office in Park City, mounts a campaign.
The campaign has not yet started. Mayor Jack Thomas has not publicized whether he will seek re-election. One of the two City Councilors whose term is expiring, Tim Henney, has said he will most likely run for re-election while the other, Cindy Matsumoto, has not made a public statement.
The filing window opens on June 1 and lasts through June 7, four months before the election could turn on an October surprise that surfaced in March.