The lots are empty in the morning this time of year. Bare asphalt and a quiet stillness sitting at the base of the mountain where, in the winter, there’s a frenetic energy as a cavalcade of cars jockeys for position. The stark difference in character is indicative of Park City’s dual identity. On one hand, it’s still a relatively quiet mountain town much of the year. On the other, it’s a rapidly evolving and developing place increasingly unrecognizable to longtime residents and visitors. The Park City Mountain and Deer Valley parking lots have become the focal point of the saga. For many, it’s hard to envision towering structures in place of flat pavement, but change is coming. It’s just a matter of what it’s going to look like.
For years, mixed use development of the parking lots has loomed. This means restaurants, hotels, retail, condos and covered parking to offset some of what’s lost. There’s been no shortage of opinions bandied about. “There’s been a fair amount of what we call ‘loud caring’ from the community regarding proposed developments at the base of Park City and Deer Valley,” says Park City Planning Director Gretchen Milliken. “The proposals are on separate time lines, but they both have vested development rights attached to them.”
The lots are two of the last remaining areas in Park City with potential for large-scale development, which is perhaps why they’ve generated a flood of public push back. “Park City is pretty well built out. The town has done some great stuff in purchasing and protecting land like Bonanza Flats and Treasure. I understand the urge to resist development here, too, but it’s private property, and people have property rights,” Milliken adds.
Opposition has come from numerous flanks. When City Hall released 82 pages of public comments related to just the Deer Valley Snow Park Lot development in the spring, the responses were overwhelmingly critical and focused on three topics: traffic, parking and impact on property values. These are unsurprising angles of attack, if only because of the simmering “I got mine” mentality, and the fact, I’m fairly certain, most development concerns are actually traffic concerns in disguise.
The effect of all the “loud caring” is difficult to quantify. Every bit of public feedback becomes public record and attached to the appropriate proposal application. Still, the Planning Commission doesn’t get to decide on a whim if a proposal concerning private property is precisely what the community needs or not. The Commission’s function is regulatory, bound by the general plan and land management code, primarily concerned with four things: parking, height, setbacks and open space.
The Planning Commission isn’t holding some ace in the hole that can radically alter proposals, nor can they impose an indefinite moratorium on development. A moratorium could only be in place for six months and only if necessitated by a significant public health or safety impact. Plus, a moratorium would only impact new proposals like the pickleball court your neighbor wants to put in his yard this fall, not these years-old major developments.
“Development doesn’t mean we’re losing community,” Milliken says. “It’s going to happen in some form or another, and if done well it can help mitigate some issues like transit and workforce housing. A 250-room hotel at the base of Park City, which some people may not like the sound of, could remove up to 150 cars from the road per day, which they would probably appreciate.”
Where change actually happens is in the updating of Park City’s general plan. That’s where the public can actually shape future policy through the visioning process. The last process was done in 2009, and it’s safe to say Park City is a vastly different place today. “The planning commission is trying to get things done responsibly and sustainably,” says Milliken. “We need the community’s support in visioning so we can update the general plan in a way that people feel good about.”