Treasure granted more time for more talks |

Treasure granted more time for more talks

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

City Hall and the Sweeney family on Thursday night agreed to extend the long-running discussions about a Treasure conservation deal until at least mid-March, giving the sides another three-plus months to attempt to craft an agreement.

The Park City Council unanimously approved an extension until March 19. There is the possibility of another extension at that point. Negotiating teams from City Hall and the family have thus far been unable to finalize a deal that could be brought to voters.

The two sides by March 19 want to agree to pursue one of the two conservation deals that are under consideration, effectively making that option the preferred alternative.

One of the two calls for City Hall to preserve the Treasure land in its entirety by purchasing the family’s development rights at the site outright. The other would reduce the scope of the Treasure project by 50 percent, perhaps through a combination of shifting part of the development rights elsewhere and City Hall buying some of the other rights in a conservation deal. The project would be redesigned under that option.

Either of the options is expected to carry a price tag for City Hall. The money would likely be raised through a ballot measure. The March 19 deadline pushes the possibility of a ballot measure well into 2012, perhaps alongside the presidential decision in November. Purchasing the development rights outright would be the costlier of the two.

Nobody testified prior to the City Council casting the vote on Thursday. City Councilors had limited comments beforehand. The vote came more than a year after City Hall and the Sweeney family in September 2010 entered into a formal agreement to consider a conservation deal. Negotiations had started several months prior to that agreement.

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"There’s no way we can compress the time to get the job done," Mike Sweeney, one of the family’s representatives, said after the City Council vote.

Sweeney did not rule out the possibility of another extension after the March 19 deadline. He did not discuss what circumstances would persuade the family’s side that a further extension would be warranted.

"If it’s in our best interest, and the community’s, yes," he said about an extension past March 19.

Thursday’s vote was cast two weeks before City Hall is expected to make public the price tag the Sweeney family has attached to a complete buyout of the Treasure development rights. The figure is the most notable of the unknowns of the Treasure negotiations. The talks have largely taken place in private. Officials have indicated the number will be made public on or close to Dec. 16.

It is expected that the price will be higher than any of City Hall’s past conservation deals. If that is the case, voters could be asked to approve the most expensive conservation bond in the city’s history. The high mark on the bonds thus far has been $20 million.

The preferred alternative that City Hall and the Sweeney family will pursue probably depends on the figure that comes from the Sweeney side for a complete buyout. If the number appears too large for voters to pass in a ballot measure, the other option — reducing the scope of Treasure — will likely be of greater interest. If the figure is set at a dollar amount deemed palatable to voters, the City Council could pursue that deal and agree to put it on the ballot.

The Treasure land is situated on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift. The Sweeney family holds development rights on the land dating from the 1980s. The family and the Park City Planning Commission deadlocked on the Treasure development proposal, which encompasses upward of 1 million square feet. The deadlock prompted the negotiations about a conservation deal.