Tom Clyde: No question which vote on Treasure is the right one for Park City
Governor Gary Herbert just declared a state of emergency in all of Utah’s 29 counties because of the drought. The declaration came after a recommendation from the Utah Drought Review and Reporting Committee (sounds like a good time, eh?), which determined that it didn’t snow last winter, didn’t rain this summer, and that the whole state was on fire. Not much gets past those guys.
The Committee reported that of Utah’s 49 largest reservoirs, eight are below 5 percent of capacity, and another 16 are below 20 percent of capacity. In other words, they are empty and the fish are walking. So now, in October, the Governor declares a state of emergency, and has gently encouraged people to take modest steps toward conserving water. October is as good a time to start conserving water as any, I suppose. We wouldn’t have wanted to get people to reduce lawn watering in July, when it might have made a difference.
Of course nobody knows what this winter will bring in terms of snowpack. We could find that next spring we are more worried about flooding than drought. Or we could have another winter like last year, and go into next spring with empty reservoirs and depleted ground water. Whichever happens, you can bet that the Governor and the Utah Drought Review and Reporting Committee will be about six months late in responding to the situation. Given the hole we are in now, it might be reasonable to plan for the worst case and hope for a surprise. But for officials in Utah to actually say the words “conserve water” out loud is a start. Even if they don’t mean it. Anyway, quit watering your lawn. It’s winter.
So while Utah is proposing to conserve all the water that isn’t in the reservoirs anymore, Park City has an opportunity to conserve something that is equally threatened. Voters in the City have the choice to vote for the bond to buy the Treasure Hill project and send all that development to density heaven. Old Town has been under attack for many years now, with huge houses crammed into lots the size of a Park Meadows living room. The historic character is being eroded. There aren’t many buildings on Main Street that lean and sag any more. While we have lost a lot of the historic character of Old Town, it’s not all gone. Every marketing piece on Park City begins with a photo of Old Town because that has been and still is the soul of Park City.
The Treasure Hill project is so large and so dominant in its location that it would really overwhelm what’s left of the historic character of Old Town. The construction process will drag on for years, beginning with a strip-mine operation to dig the foundations. The construction won’t last forever (though for those living in Old Town it will feel that way). The finished product is the bigger problem. Old Town, the defining image of Park City, will be dwarfed by the completed development.
I worked at the City when the project was initially proposed. It was contentious then. The zoning ordinance was focused on the small platted lots in Old Town, and didn’t adequately account for a parcel of about 125 acres included in that zone. The code discouraged sprawl, and at the time, the prospect of roads snaking up the mountainside for single family lots (think Deer Crest) was unthinkable. So the decision was made to concentrate the density to save the hillside.
Turning it down was never an option, though there was a lot of anguish in City Hall trying to find a way. It satisfied the requirements of the zone at the time. There was a deliberate, and difficult, decision to approve it, complete with things that seemed excessive, because it would be impossible to build it. That gamble bought us a generation. Even with the Olympic frenzy, it was not financially feasible.
But now, with St. Regis and Montage completed, and couple of similarly sized projects on deck in the Mayflower project and the ski resort parking lots, the Treasure project seems plausible. Not easy — it’s a very difficult site — but it’s no longer unimaginable that somebody could find the financial backing to build it. Or, maybe worse, find the backing to start building it before the costs explode, abandoning it with the mountain strip-mined and the financiers running for cover.
I don’t live in the city, and can’t vote on the bond. I don’t own property in the city any more, so I won’t have to pay the bonds. But there’s no question how I would vote on this if I could. For those who can vote on this, please vote to save the soul of Park City by voting for the bond, and drive a silver stake through the heart of this monster.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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Tom Clyde was not impressed with Jeff Bezos’ recent trip to “space,” though it does make him wonder if space tourism should be in Park City’s future.