Vail Resorts, Treasure, helicopters trademarked controversy in 2016 |

Vail Resorts, Treasure, helicopters trademarked controversy in 2016

The year was extraordinary in Park City in so many unexpected ways

The family of Grant Seaver mourns at a memorial held Sept. 17 honoring the 13-year-olds life. Seaver and his best friend Ryan Ainsworth, also 13, were found dead in their homes early in September, and officials later determined they died of overdoses. The deaths shook the Park City community and sparked wide-ranging discussions about the issue of student drug use.
File photo by Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Park City by the end of 2016 could put a trademark symbol on the word ‘Controversy.’

The year was extraordinary in so many unexpected ways, continuing what will likely be seen in the future as one of the pivotal eras in Park City’s modern history.

It seemed probable at the beginning of the year that the polarizing Treasure development proposal would return to prominence, but few would have anticipated that helicopters buzzing over the area during the Sundance Film Festival or the very name ‘Park City’ would also be so notable in 2016. And tragedies like those in 2016 can never be predicted.

A list of the five most important news stories of 2016 in Park City follows:

5. The crime scene

The Park City Police Department logs are typically filled with complaints about speeding drivers in neighborhoods, loud people enjoying Main Street and parking problems.

In 2016, though, police officers rushed to a series of crime scenes involving violence, thefts with lofty price tags attached and a breathtaking vandalism case. It seemed as if high-profile crime was more prevalent in 2016 than most other years in Park City.

The two cases that were especially jarring involved rare acts of gun violence in Park City. In February what was described as a fistfight in a Park City condominium escalated into a shooting. Jose Fernandez, a 37-year-old full-time bartender and part-time manager in Park City, died at a hospital four days after he was shot. It was the first killing in Park City in more than a decade and left the community in mourning. The police arrested a suspect shortly afterward and the criminal case against him will continue into 2017.

In March, meanwhile, a man brandishing a pistol robbed a Main Street restaurant, prompting a massive police response on Easter morning and then a manhunt after the suspect eluded capture. The suspect was arrested a few days later at a hotel in Kimball Junction. A judge in October sentenced him to up to 15 years in prison.

The police logs continued to show serious cases the rest of the year. Burglars struck the Park City Kimball Arts Festival in August, hauling away a variety of high-priced works in the overnight hours. In late October, vandals broke into a Thaynes Canyon house, trashing the place. It was a stunning case that left water damage, destroyed electronics, overturned furniture and a glass door in shatters. In late November, meanwhile, a man was badly injured in what was described as an unprovoked attack outside a Main Street establishment.

“This was a sustained rage of perhaps an hour they were tearing things up,” said Krista Dana, the owner of the vandalized Thaynes Canyon house, adding, “It was not just a fist through a wall or a rock through a window.”

4. Sundance buzzed

The Sundance Film Festival always generates buzz in January.

It was the buzz in the skies over the Snyderville Basin in 2016 that was unexpected, however. On-demand helicopter services operated in the Park City area at the outset of the festival for the first time. The services, including one operated by Uber, were meant to shuttle people from airports to Park City without needing to navigate the notorious Sundance traffic.

As the flights started, there was outrage in the Snyderville Basin neighborhoods where landing zones were located. There were stories of low-flying helicopters in the neighborhoods and landings in fields on the edge of the residential areas.

County Courthouse officials were displeased as they started hearing from dismayed constituents. While Sundance was entering its busy opening weekend, Summit County attorneys and attorneys for the helicopter services entered a courtroom. Summit County sought a temporary restraining order stopping the flights. The helicopter services opposed the move. The judge declined to grant the temporary restraining order, indicating she had not yet gathered enough information to make a ruling.

The County Courthouse, however, shortly afterward reached a settlement with the services ending the flights in exchange for Summit County withdrawing a lawsuit that sought to end the flights.

Prior to the settlement, Summit County officials received correspondences from people unhappy with the helicopter flights. One person said it was like a war zone and was worried about the impact on wildlife while another said Summit County did not intend to rezone the neighborhood for an airport.

“I regret the disruption to the neighborhood. Uber does not have permission to operate a helicopter service in Summit County and was told yesterday it could not land in the Basin. The helicopter service is in violation of County codes,” Roger Armstrong, the chair of the Summit County Council, wrote in a response to at least one of the correspondences.

3. A Treasure map

It had been upward of six years by the spring of 2016 since the polarizing Treasure development proposal had been before the Park City Planning Commission, a lengthy hiatus for such a controversial project.

The time allowed the Treasure partnership and City Hall to pursue an ultimately unsuccessful round of discussions about the prospects of a conservation deal involving the Treasure hillside that overlooks Old Town along the route of the Town Lift.

The Treasure partnership, consisting of the Sweeney family and firm called Park City II, LLC, in the spring requested that the project be put before the Planning Commission again, a relaunching of the talks about one of the most hotly disputed development proposals of Park City’s skiing era. The partnership wants to secure an approval for approximately 1 million square feet of development, linking the proposal to a 1980s-era overall approval involving the Treasure land and nearby parcels.

The opposition quickly remobilized as Planning Commission meetings about Treasure neared. The critics of the project argue Treasure would loom over Old Town and draw too much traffic to neighborhood streets. The first meetings drew large crowds of opponents, but attendance dropped at Treasure meetings by the end of the year. The Treasure side led a walking tour of the site and put a detailed model of the project on public display. The opposition posted yard signs critical of the project.

The issues were familiar to people who followed Treasure over the years, and the sides have not relented in their assertions. The Planning Commission itself has appeared unconvinced by the proposal even though the panel seems to be months away from casting what will be a momentous vote on the project, perhaps sometime in 2017.

“It feels right. We’ve looked at alternatives, we talked at length with the city,” Pat Sweeney, who represents his family in the discussions, said in April. “It’s time to get on with it. It just is.”

2. Park City, TM

Park City long ago could have trademarked the word ‘Controversy.’

Development matters, leash laws and parking have been just a few of the controversial issues over the years that divided the community.

But in 2016, the very name ‘Park City’ would unexpectedly stir Parkites.

The former owners of Park City Mountain Resort quietly started the federal process of acquiring a trademark on the name ‘Park City.” There was little publicity early on, but when the current owner of PCMR, Vail Resorts, continued to pursue the trademark, the Colorado firm encountered broad community resistance. Vail Resorts argued that a trademark would protect it against another mountain resort opening using the name of the city and that the trademark application was narrowly worded.

Many in the community, though, were livid that a corporate interest could secure a trademark on the name of the city. The opponents rallied outside the Marsac Building during one high-profile meeting between City Hall officials and a Vail Resorts delegation and, at one point during the controversy, the opposition movement, in an act of civil disobedience, added a ‘TM’ to the PC Hill lettering overlooking Kearns Boulevard.

As the opposition swelled, Vail Resorts eventually abandoned the bid for a trademark, saying the community focus should shift to other issues. It was seen as a victory for rank-and-file Parkites as much as it was for the leadership of City Hall.

The controversy led some longtime businesses or government entities to seek their own trademarks to guard against challenges in the future. City Hall itself filed trademark applications on several municipal facility names and marks while several businesses with the name of the community in their monikers also filed paperwork for a federal trademark.

“This wasn’t just a business deal. For a lot of people in the community it went right to their soul,” said Dana Williams, a former three-term mayor and one of the leaders of the opposition movement.

1. Student deaths startle community

In early September, a tragedy shook Park City.

Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth, 13-year-old best friends and students at Treasure Mountain Junior High School, were found dead two days apart in their respective homes. Police immediately suspected that the boys had overdosed due to the close timing of their deaths and social media posts about drugs, and the state medical examiner’s office confirmed that conclusion nearly two months later after performing autopsies on the teens.

The unexpected deaths shocked students and parents and put school leaders and the Park City Police Department on edge. Officials were quick to caution parents to look for signs of drug use in their own children and warned about the dangers of U-47700, a synthetic opioid sometimes referred to as pink. The drug, which has strewn a trail of deaths across the country, was ultimately determined to have been responsible for the overdoses.

As well as sending the community into mourning, the deaths dragged the issue of drug use in Park City’s schools and on its streets into the open. Shaken, school and community leaders pledged to face the problem head on.

Superintendent Ember Conley, for one, decried what she saw as an insidious culture of acceptance of drugs among teens and spearheaded efforts to educate students about the dangers of illicit substances. In the ensuing months, the school district organized screenings of several films and panel discussions exploring the issues of drug abuse and mental health. Other community organizations, such as the Summit County Health Department and Connect Summit County, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues, have also promised to help solve the problem.

The police investigations into the deaths also brought on criminal charges for a 15-year-old boy accused of ordering U-47700 online from China. According to court documents, the boy and a friend allegedly distributed the drug, which is twice as potent as heroin, to two other friends. Police, however, have not explicitly stated whether Seaver or Ainsworth received the drug from the boy.

The 15-year-old is charged with one second-degree felony count of distributing a controlled substance and one Class A misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in a court appearance in November. His next court date is scheduled for Jan. 27.

Bubba Brown contributed

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