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To stop a 1 million square-foot development, how much are Park City taxpayers willing to pay the Sweeney brothers Ed, Mike and Pat, for 124 acres of land abutting the historic district?
The answer to that question is eagerly awaited by Old Town residents who say the Treasure Hill proposal is too big for the neighborhood, and would create traffic and public safety hazards, among other problems. The price tag is expected to be announced at a Dec. 15 City Council meeting.
A recent appraisal put the value of the land at $48 million. Some observers say that could be well shy of what the Sweeney brothers believe the project is worth.
Ed Sweeney said Friday he could not comment on whether $48 million is enough. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said.
He was referring to a vote the City Council will make this week to extend a "letter of intent" from the municipality to the Sweeneys. The measure that officially continues negotiations is expected to pass easily and will ask the Sweeneys to provide a selling price.
Councilwoman Liza Simpson said Friday the council most likely would then go to voters to determine whether they support a property tax hike to underwrite a bond for the land purchase.
"I can't imagine us making that kind of a deal without voter approval," she said.
Beyond that, the municipality has no money left in its open space fund and bonding appears to be the only mechanism at present to pay for such a purchase.
According to information provided by Park City, a $50 million bond would cost a resident homeowner $43 for each $100,000 of assessed value for the 15-year life of the bond.
The Treasure Hill project, as currently proposed, would include a luxury hotel, conference center, condominiums and retail space on 12 to 14 acres west of Lowell Avenue near Park City Mountain Resort's Creole ski run. That plan calls for 110 acres of open space.
In 1986, the Sweeney family was granted approval for a 415,000 square foot development. Several years ago, they put forth the 1 million square foot proposal. The Park City Planning Commission was poised to give it a negative recommendation when in August the City Council called a halt to the process.
The council then initiated negotiations with the Sweeneys to avoid a courtroom showdown, according to Mayor Dana Williams. The city did not want a legal settlement as a planning guide, he said at the time.
A citizens group, Treasure Hill Impact Neighborhood Coalition (THINC), had organized to stop the project at the Planning Commission level. A THINC organizer, Brian Van Hecke, said Friday the group has not been comfortable with the negotiating process. And, he added, there is little support for a tax hike that would hand the Sweeneys tens of millions of dollars during an economic downturn.
"I would question whether any developer would move forward in this economy," he said.
Rather than buy the land outright, Van Hecke said he would favor a transfer of density that would move the project to the base of Park City Mountain Resort, a potential alternative that has been widely discussed.
"That would be the purchase price of a parking lot, rather than a buy-down of density," he said. "That's the type of negotiation that I would like to see take place."
If Park City voters do not pass the bond measure, the Sweeneys' proposal would go back to the Planning Commission.