Once upon a time, there was a Prince who wanted to build the castle of his dreams on King Road.
But this isn’t a fairy tale. It’s the all-to-familiar story of wealthy, rich and powerful Utahns attempting to work with the Legislature to bend the rules or rewrite them entirely — and very nearly getting their way.
First, the background: From pretty much anywhere you go in Park City, you can look up to the hillside peering down on the town from the West and see two huge, rustic-style homes.
Those buildings — actually a 7,000-square-foot home with a large adjacent guest house — are owned by Matthew Prince, who you might have heard of. Prince is the founder of CloudFlare, a wildly successful digital security company that has made him very, very wealthy
In fact, he is believed to be the second-richest Utahn, behind only Gail Miller, with a net worth of $2.2 billion, according to the most recent Forbes estimates.
Several months ago, Prince’s representatives asked city planners for permission to tear down the homes and build, in their place, a sprawling mountainside mansion, another guest house, a pool with a pool house and a parking garage.
The footprint for the new home, cut into the steep mountainside, would be much larger than the area covered by both existing structures and stand much taller.
In addition, the lot where the new home would be built sits not far from Treasure Hill, a dedicated open space that city taxpayers paid $64 million in 2019 to buy and preserve from development, and a portion of the property overlaps a “sensitive lands overlay” designed to help protect the open space.
Because of the issues raised by the ambitious proposal, staff for the city planning commission asked for more information about building on such a steep grade and pointed out that the size and height restrictions that had been put on the property decades ago would need to be amended if the project was to go forward.
Mind you, nobody has ever said, ”no, it can’t be built.” It never got that far, because before it came before the planning commission on Oct. 22, Prince’s representatives asked to remove the matter from the agenda.
They had other plans.
Toward the end of the legislative session, a few seemingly innocuous sentences were slipped into a bill that would have essentially given Prince carte blanche to demolish the two houses and build his new home as large as he wants and as tall as he wants without the city’s approval.
The language was added the same day that, according to disclosure records, Prince hired Lincoln Shurtz, one of the top lobbyists, to represent him at the Capitol.
But after I wrote about the attempt to override the city’s zoning rules on Thursday, numerous legislators — unaware the provision existed — contacted me concerned at what was going on.
Friday morning the Senate stripped the Prince language from an affordable housing bill — yes, affordable housing — but it later popped up as a proposed addition to SB271, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, that also restricts a city’s ability to regulate co-owned vacation homes.
“No rational explanation has been offered as to why the State Legislature would disrupt the balance of residential life, interfere with a 30-year-old development agreement and jeopardize municipal zoning,” Park City Mayor Nann Worel said in a statement. “This bill is overt legislative overreach and includes special treatment of one resident over the community.”
But then something a bit surprising happened: The House voted it down, rejecting the language on a vote of 30-42.
In fairness to Prince, many of his neighbors wrote emails to the city stating that they were fine with his plan. Several noted that the homes typically have been used as short-term rentals and they would welcome a more permanent neighbor. Prince’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
What I find infuriating (and you should too) is the way the Legislature is once again wielding its power as a weapon, steamrolling the decisions made — or in this case, not even yet considered — by the local leaders elected by the people most impacted by the decisions.
And, of course, the eagerness to smash local governments grows even more intense when they are doing it for someone with enormous amounts of money and access to high-priced lobbyists.
Recently, I wrote about how the Legislature slipped language into a bill green-lighting a highly controversial mixed-use development near Kimball Junction for the developer Dakota Pacific — ignoring the concerns raised by county officials and ongoing efforts to try to resolve the issues.
There is also legislation pending — although likely dead for this session — that would give the owner of a proposed gravel pit in Parley’s Canyon the right to start ripping up the mountainside, despite the strenuous objections from local and county officials.
And this week, I wrote about a bill that would give developers the unprecedented power to issue bonds to finance projects, levy taxes and even condemn property through eminent domain — essentially act like their own little, unelected, unaccountable government.
None of this reflects how our system is supposed to work. In our system of government, people are supposed to be treated the same and play by the same rules — even if you happen to be the richest man in the state. Fortunately, this time, the system worked.
Update: March 3, 12:45 p.m.. • This story has been updated to reflect the language that would have allowed Prince to build his new mansion, despite city ordinances, failed Friday.