Controversial Deer Valley development with ski beach may have received a boost from Senate President Stuart Adams

The Park City Council may vote Thursday on a deal to give the resort the road segment it wants in return for a $15 million investment.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Parking lots for the Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. The resort wants to develop a village on the lots and has asked to take over a portion of Deer Valley Drive as part of its plan.

A contentious request by Deer Valley to take control of a Park City public road drew the interest last year of Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, who called Mayor Nann Worel and other city officials to his Capitol office to discuss the proposed development.

Adams said Wednesday — ahead of an expected Thursday vote by the Park City Council on whether to approve the long-debated transfer — that he encouraged the mayor to move expeditiously and make a decision one way or another on Deer Valley’s request.

“I told her from the very beginning that they should treat [Deer Valley] fairly, that they shouldn’t slow bake them,” Adams said in an interview. “If you’re going to make a decision, make it and tell them about it ... and let them move on.”

By the time the meeting took place in October 2022, Deer Valley’s request to take ownership of the road segment had been pending before the council for more than six months. The resort had broached its plan to transform Snow Park into a “world-class base village” more than a year earlier, in a July 2021 presentation to the planning commission.

Adams’ private meeting with Park City officials was not publicly reported. But after it occurred, Republican Rep. Mike Kohler — whose district includes Deer Valley — met and emailed with worried constituents and described what he said the mayor told him about Adams’ pitch.

“The mayor shares your concerns about the State interfering with internal processes and asked that I do what I can to stop any effort to make that happen,” Kohler wrote in a Jan. 3, 2023, email obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

”That said, she has been contacted by Senator Adams, the president of the senate, who said that he really liked the project,” Kohler wrote, “and wanted to see it happen.”

In an interview this week, Kohler confirmed sending the email and said he heard about the meeting with Adams from Worel and City Manager Matt Dias. In an email to The Tribune Wednesday night, he added that his conversation with the mayor was about “the potential of anyone from the Legislative level” attempting to influence the decision, and Worel “never accused Sen. Adams of interference.”

In a statement to The Tribune this week, Worel confirmed her October 2022 meeting with Adams and said he was “understandably interested” in Deer Valley’s plans, given the likelihood of Utah hosting a future Olympic Games.

She declined to specify what Adams and city officials discussed. In recent months, Worel and other officials have been negotiating in private with resort officials.

On Nov. 30, Worel announced a proposed deal with Deer Valley that would grant the resort’s request to take a 2.6-acre section of Deer Valley Drive, enabling the resort to dramatically change how traffic gets to and from Snow Park.

The resort will make a $15 million investment in transportation infrastructure and affordable housing under the proposed “public-private partnership,” and the city said it will match that with its own $15 million contribution.

Worel said in her statement that she spoke to Adams again last week.

”He was pleased that Park City and Deer Valley were able to find common ground and work together in the name of local solutions,” she said. “We will continue to have these conversations with the state as we work together to prepare Park City for the future.”

‘Kind of this boogeyman’

Other than the question of the public road, Deer Valley has long had the right to develop the Snow Park base area. The plan the resort seeks would turn parking lots there into a retail, commercial and ski-in, ski-out lodging hub connected by gondola to a resort under construction, formerly known as Mayflower, along U.S. 40 in Wasatch County.

Under an agreement announced in August, Deer Valley assumed management and branding of Mayflower, though Extell Development continues to own it.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Some Park City residents have been concerned that the Legislature might expand the footprint of the Mayflower project — which is being developed under the auspices of the Military Installation Development Authority.

Under state law, MIDA can plan and oversee developments that have a military purpose. In one of the hotels in the Mayflower project, about 100 rooms will be available for military members at a reduced cost and on a sliding scale based on their income.

Adams, chairman of MIDA’s board, said the idea of MIDA gaining control of Deer Valley has never been discussed.

“Let me say, first of all, absolutely no, absolutely 1,000 percent,” Adams said. “First of all, we’ve never been asked and, second of all, if we’d been asked, we’d have to have the municipality’s approval. And if we got the municipality’s approval, we would have to find a military purpose [for the project].”

Park City Council member Tana Toly had been blunt about the community’s suspicions last December, after MIDA executive director and general counsel Paul Morris gave the council an update about the Mayflower project.

”We hear these rumors in the coffee shops and around town that, you know, MIDA’s kind of this boogeyman,” Toly said, “and I just would love for you to clear the air, you know, you’re not planning to expand into Park City, you don’t want to come over here and dominate what we’re doing.”

“You’ve got that right,” Morris said, later adding: “There’s no secret plan.”

Under current law, land within Park City boundaries cannot be included in a MIDA project area without the city’s consent, he emphasized.

Morris then described another community misgiving — “Some say, wow, you could change, the Legislature could change the law and you know, true,” he said, “but there’s no intent and our board never talks about it.”

The road debate

Deer Valley’s plans for the Snow Park base area have drawn support from some locals, who told the city they look forward to the village expanding and getting a huge refresh that will benefit residents and visitors alike.

More than 1,110 homeowners, though, banded together to oppose allowing Deer Valley to close and build on the road, saying they fear worsened traffic and safety problems.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Parking lots for the Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.

At a council meeting last week, former council candidate John Greenfield suggested the community focus on what it wants in exchange for the city granting Deer Valley’s request for the public road. He raised the specter of lawmakers stepping in if the city says no.

Under current state law, the city council must find good cause to vacate the road and that no member of the public would be materially injured by the change. Deer Valley has said it plans to use some of the right-of-way for a ski beach.

“If folks think an alternative plan is DV starting over from scratch, allow me to spell out what that actually looks like,” Greenfield said, predicting Deer Valley’s owners would be “asking the Legislature to clarify what good cause means and then [lawmakers would be] setting the bar so low, we’ll stub our toe on it the next time we try to use it for anything meaningful.”

The current proposed deal between Deer Valley and Park City also would create a Public Infrastructure District, or PID, in that area. PIDs are a financing tool that would help Deer Valley invest in things like roads, crosswalks and pathways using bonds that get repaid from future property tax revenues within the PID boundaries.

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