Teri Orr: We already have (the) Treasure — let’s not lose it | ParkRecord.com

Teri Orr: We already have (the) Treasure — let’s not lose it

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.
Park Record file photo

I have been worrying about Treasure Hill for nearly 40 years. And writing about it for every bit as long. I love the open space — we all do. And we have weighed the pros and cons of development for a long time. And we banked — a very long time ago — on the fact it would never ever ever pencil out for a developer to be able to build on those steep slopes. Back then, we didn’t see it coming — multi-million-dollar homes replacing miner’s shacks in Old Town — giant four and five star hotels clinging to mountainsides filled with guests from all over the world — the Olympics coming to town and all the sawdust and glitter it would leave behind.

What we did know then and do know now is — Utah is a state that favors landowners in a lawsuit. And if this bond doesn’t pass we are headed into a mother of a suit … for years. Because whether we like it or not — the Treasure partners have long vested rights here. Rights that were approved in 1986. Sellable rights. Sellable to a giant corporation — like the ones who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years to buy up raw dirt and ski resorts we thought would be held by families who would be benevolent forever and wanted what we wanted for Our Town.

The crossroads we find ourselves at now is this — the former models we relied on no longer work. The hillside does pencil out for The Big Dogs. And the landowners have rights that will stand up in court and can be sold. And they deserve to sell this land and move into the retirement phase of their lives. But make no mistake, if this bond doesn’t happen we can expect that hillside to be sold to outside interests who will develop every inch that is already permitted. They are circling now as we approach Election Day.

The following is a copy of a news commentary piece I wrote as editor of this paper in 1986. It has been used by both sides of the Treasure discussion and is a legal document in the files of both the city of Park City and the Treasure partners. It was, at the time, accompanied by a New Yorker cartoon that showed density with a drawing of many tiny single-story homes spread all over the hillside (as currently permitted) being replaced by a single, giant, multi-story building (also currently permitted). Space limits the ability to replicate the cartoon as it was first presented.

This is the last chance to save that mountain we have all loved, all the years, each of us who have lived here. Keep it open — for our kids and their kids — the kids we hope they will want to bring back to visit here.

No community has ever regretted saving open space.

No one ever says “I wished that sunset was filtered by a 14-story hotel.”

Invest in a future that ensures — our collective legacy is — the natural beauty we have all enjoyed for decades.

If you are still undecided — consider hiking up there and rubbing the dirt between your fingers … roll a rock around in the palm your hand.

The Land will speak to you if you let it — any day including this very Sunday in the Park…

The following analysis was originally published in The Park Record in 1986.
How should Park City’s last ‘open’ hillside be developed?

For all intents and purposes there is but one remaining “open” hillside in Park City. Aspens trees dot the gully and the mountainside known as Creole Gulch, and in the afternoon sun shadows play on the homes in Old Town.

The Sweeney family owns the nearly 125 acres that constitute the hillside. They have paid taxes on the land for years and recently they again approached the planning commission and the City Council about plans to develop the area.

It is a sensitive place: the new Town Lift chair carries skiers up the mountain along the same route that mining tram cars once took ore down the mountain. There is a fragile fabric in the area where old miner’s homes share space with modern brick hotel rooms.

The future of the hillside is in question. The rights of landowners are in question. Buzz words like open space and density and height exceptions are being tossed about by those who are debating the possibilities surrounding Creole Gulch.

Some say the land never should have been zoned to allow the maximum 400 plus units there. Some say the developers will never be able to economically make the project “pencil out.” Others say to allow a 95 foot building there is completely out of place with the character of Old Town. Still others contend nearly any plan that allows the city to maintain 120 acres of open space on that hillside is worth the trade-off.

Fraught with complications, the Sweeneys have been before the planning commission numerous times and have spent thousands of dollars on various proposals on how best they could develop their land. Members of the city planning staff have spent endless hours looking at all those different plans to reach the most acceptable compromise possible to all parties.

On a split vote of the planning commission, the Sweeneys received approval of a plan which would allow them 1.77 units per acre, or a total of 219 unit equivalents — a 49 percent reduction from the allowable density. To achieve the desired density swap they would need a height exception to the current land management code. Instead of the 45 feet allowed they want to build up to 95 feet in the Gulch.

Thursday, the City Council will call up the entire Master Plan for the project based on the request for the height exception. Those who would bet on such things are tempted to say right now it will most likely be a split vote with council members Jim Doilney and Kristen Rogers probably voting against, members Tom Shellenberger and Jim Santy voting for and Ann MacQuoid trying for whatever compromise she can to make the whole thing work.

Maybe the land should have been down-zoned years ago when the city had the chance. Maybe, as the Sweeneys themselves admit, this project won’t be built out for 20 years and by then all the players could change. Maybe a sort of tall building is worth a lot of blue sky and multi-colored foliage. Maybe the Sweeneys, without the approval, will take what could be 19 separate parcels and sell them off and the city will have little control over the single family homes that could dot the entire hillside.

It’s a tough question. As a community we have repeatedly told city officials we don’t like tall buildings. And we have repeatedly told them we do like open space. We have urged developers to work with city staff members to come up with palatable plans and we have urged planners to be reasonable with developers but not give away the farm.

We have told the planning commission they are an important body and serve a meaningful purpose. But when they allow something taller than code, we term them impotent and demur to the council for a decision.

The aye’s and nay’s from Thursday’s city council meeting will echo against the hills of Creole Gulch for years to come. No matter the decision it will affect the morale of city staff members, developers, appointed commission members and the general public in far-reaching ways.

The Sweeneys have a right to develop their land. And Parkites have the right to expect city fathers (and mothers) to preserve the open hillside.

We do not envy the council its Solomon-like choices.

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

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