Sweeney land deal unlikely
November 29, 2006
Not even an eight-digit check, that’s at least $10 million, would sway the Sweeney family into negotiations with City Hall about an open-space purchase of the family’s pivotal Treasure Hill land.
As soon as Park City voters on Election Day approved a $20 million conservation bond, the largest in the city’s history, there was speculation that, with the infusion of money, City Hall could bargain with the Sweeneys.
But Pat Sweeney, who represents his family, says that the chatter is unfounded. He says that the family is not interested in talking with City Hall about an open-space purchase. Instead the Sweeneys intend to continue to pursue the approvals from the local government that they need before building Treasure Hill, a project that will be situated on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort, just west of Old Town.
"We would not be interested in changing the project at this point. We don’t think that makes sense for us," Sweeney says.
Sweeney says that the family will not sell the land to City Hall in a conservation deal and will not negotiate with the city to reduce the scale of the project in exchange for some of the bond money.
"I don’t think we’re a prime candidate," he says about the potential of City Hall-family negotiations.
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Voters in Park City overwhelmingly approved the bond, with 82 percent of the people casting ‘Yea’ ballots. The supporters outnumbered the opponents by a more than 4-1 margin. The bond was the third open-space measure in Park City’s history and it was the largest. The previous two, approved in 1998 and 2002, pumped $10 million each into the city’s open-space coffers.
When voters went to the polls on Election Day, as was the case in the two previous bonds, City Hall had not identified parcels that could be purchased should the bond pass. But there was at least a thought by some that the money could be pumped into Treasure Hill, whether through a purchase of the entire parcel or as an enticement to reduce the size of the project.
There have been similar suggestions before as the Park City Planning Commission held hearings about the family’s development application. The value of the Sweeney land, however, has not been publicly debated.
Sweeney says that the revenues from the bond would not compensate the family for the land and the time and expenses of shepherding the project through City Hall’s approval process. He says that the family has spent more than $1 million planning the project in the last four years.
"I don’t think it’s going to happen. I can say, categorically, we’re not interested in selling density," Sweeney says, adding that the $20 million is not enough to purchase all the family’s Treasure Hill development rights. "You’d end up buying the part of the project you couldn’t see anyway."
He says that the family’s real-estate agents in the period between 1996 and 2000 approached City Hall to discuss an open-space purchase but the government was not interested. At that time, Sweeney says, it was priced "a whole bunch less than it is today." He says, in the early 1990s, the land was on the market for less than $10 million but the price has risen since then.
The project dates to 1986, when the Sweeneys received an overall approval for their land at the base of the Town Lift and the slopeside parcels where they plan to build Treasure Hill. In the two decades since the initial approval, others parts of the overall project, like the Caledonian, several houses and the Town Bridge over Park Avenue, have been built.
The current Treasure Hill application, however, is the prime part of the overall approval, encompassing about 282 units like condominiums, townhouses and hotel suites and 19,000 square feet of commercial space. The project would be split between two tracts of land, known as the midstation parcel and Creole Gulch, totaling 11.5 acres. The current discussions are centered on the design, not whether the city should allow the units. That was decided in the 1986 approval.
The talks about the 282 units have extended almost three years and there has been little movement in recent months. Sweeney says the development team has been reconsidering a list of issues brought up by the government, reviewing details like the architecture and the sorts of units that could be built, such as hotel rooms or condominiums.
Sweeney says he expects to return to the Planning Commission in early 2007.
Neighbors on streets like Empire Avenue and Lowell Avenue are worried that Treasure Hill would attract too many drivers to streets that the neighbors say cannot handle the increased traffic. The traffic fears have dominated lots of the Treasure Hill hearings and other concerns have included the size of Treasure Hill and that the design, critics say, does not consider the growth in the neighborhood since the 1986 approval.
Mayor Dana Williams acknowledges that discussions about a deal with the Sweeneys will likely not occur, saying that the possibility is "slim" and "they’re not interested."
"They key to preserving open space is a willing seller," the mayor says.
He refuses to handicap the support if, although unlikely, the Sweeneys would offer the land for the full $20 million. If a deal could be negotiated that would substantially reduce the size of Treasure Hill, Williams says there could be discussions. Should a deal be sought that would slightly alter the size of Treasure Hill, the mayor says he would not be interested.
"That doesn’t seem to help," Williams says of the $20 million bond. "The project is worth a hell of a lot more."
Brian Van Hecke, an Empire Avenue resident who is worried about Treasure Hill, says negotiations between City Hall and the Sweeneys about a purchase would be "at least time well spent." He is concerned with the traffic and the way Treasure Hill would alter Old Town.
Van Hecke, who says he voted for the bond and the previous two open-space measures, says a Sweeney deal should be discussed but says that the neighbors do not claim dibs on the money for a Treasure Hill purchase.
"I voted for the bond but not with a notion it would be applied to Treasure Hill," he says. "However, I would not rule that out."