Politics

Residents worry construction of the Prince mansion would put other Old Town homes in danger of a landslide

The proposed excavation plan would involve two cuts with a terrace between.  Each cut would be 35 – 40 feet deep and approximately 130 feet long, which some fear would weaken the hillside causing a potential landslide.

PARK CITY, Utah – As the Park City Planning Commission prepares for its next meeting to address the proposed Old Town mansion that billionaires Matthew and Tatiana Prince are tirelessly pursuing city approval to build, neighbors and community members have brought forth safety concerns about building such a large structure on a lot with a slope in excess of 40%.

The issue that the Planning Commission will be considering at the meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 26 at 5:30 p.m. is whether or not the Sensitive Lands Overlay (SLO) written into the Sweeney Master Planned Development applies to the Prince’s property at 220 Kind Rd. That is technical jargon, which essentially means the Planning Commission needs to carefully determine whether or not the rules and boundary markings that were originally drawn and accepted by the town at an earlier date, will apply to the Prince property. 

An overlay of the proposed Prince mansion's footprint on the steep slope analysis from the project's engineering documents. The areas in pink indicate a slope between 30-40%.
An overlay of the proposed Prince mansion’s footprint on the steep slope analysis from the project’s engineering documents. The areas in pink indicate a slope between 30-40%.

Prince’s legal team, which includes both Wade Budge and Bruce Baird, say Prince’s land has vested rights that mean the SLO does not apply. In previous meetings, they have argued that the boundary line of the SLO, which cuts through Prince’s lot was not placed there with “intention.” SLO boundaries are typically drawn to include sensitive steep-sloped terrain that the city has deemed should not be developed. Prince’s lawyers, who are well-known for winning other tricky cases, like finding a legal loophole to win approval of the annexation of Hideout, are mired deep in a jungle of legalese.

Justin Keyes, representing appellants of the project, and Prince’s neighbors, Susan Fredston-Hermann and Eric Hermann, will argue that because all necessary parties involved in a 1996 subdivision process had notice of the existing zoning regulations and boundaries, the only logical conclusion is that including a portion of the properties in the SLO of the development was intentional.

“Further, the SLO zone is designed to protect sensitive lands and was drawn based on the topography of Park City with little regard for property lines to keep Parkites and their properties safe. In other words, it was intentionally drawn exactly where the lines are currently shown on the map,” Keyes wrote in documents submitted to the Planning Commission in advance of the June 26 meeting. 

A Park City Zoning map showing where the SLO boundary line, in red dashes, bisects Matthew Prince’s lot at 220 King Rd. Much of Princes lot, including the land that lies inside the SLO is considered “Very steep” as defined by town records. (Screenshot of PCM document)

Landslide Concerns

Construction of the mansion, accessory buildings and access driveway will require massive excavation on the steep hillside. Whether or not the property is deemed to be regulated by the SLO, municipal documents show a rendering of the footprint of the 130 foot-long, four story-high mansion laid over the lot’s slope analysis, which shows the majority of the home will sit on a 40% slope. 

The proposed excavation plan would involve two cuts with a terrace between.  Each cut would be 35 – 40 feet deep and approximately 130 feet long, which some fear would weaken the hillside causing a potential landslide. 

In a letter written by Old Town residents Patricia and David Constable sent to town officials for public input, reference was made to the landslide that occurred during construction on King’s Crown, above the Marriot Mountainside hotel in 2023. 

“The Kings Crown landslide is a good example of the dangers of steep slope excavation. With the integrity of King Road at risk, the dangers of adjacent property damage and personal harm to inhabitants, we request extreme caution to be required before proceeding,” the Constables said. 

A photo of the Kings Crown landslide which occurred during construction in April 2023. (Photo source: Utah Geological Survey)

The landslide at King’s Crown was on a gentler slope, had much smaller terraced cuts (10 feet deep), and the area that slid was smaller than what could slide as a result of the proposed Prince excavation, Utah Geological Survey’s assessment shows. 

Mark Milligan, a geologist with Utah Geological Survey said that slope steepness is only one factor in determining how prone a particular slope is to a potential slide and said one of those factors is if the area is prone to landslides. Other factors include wetness, cutting into the slope, adding weight to it, and the composition of the layers of earth beneath the surface. Milligan, who spoke generally about how landslides occur, said that those conditions can also change after a structure is built.

Prince’s attorneys say, if approved, the project would be closely monitored and that Prince has an obvious vested interest in making sure the site is safe because their home would be “damaged first.” 

The engineering report states that once the reinforced cement retaining walls and foundation are in place, the hillside will be stable. The report does not state that the hillside will be stable during construction. 

Prince’s project has faced widespread public opposition

During a prior meeting in February, Rossi Hill resident Dennis Hranitsky, expressed concern about the steep slope issue and also pointed out that the Prince home is unlike other homes that have been built in Old Town, in “height, footprint, roof, windows, etc.” and that the building would violate other Historic District code. 

The Staff Report indicates that the main proposed structure does not comply with code. I hope the Planning Commission will ensure that the proposed structure conforms to all the codes and approval processes that the rest of us in Old Town must abide by,” Hranitsky wrote. 

The Prince project has been widely criticized by many Parkites and the story has received international press

Recently, a petition against Matthew Prince’s mansion has circulated on Change.org. It was started by a concerned Park City resident, who opposes Prince’s “tactics” trying to get the project approved, which have included suing his neighbors and their dogs, Sahsa and Mocha, slipping a provision into an affordable housing bill, to push through Prince’s home constructions plans, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune. 

So far, the petition has 869 signatures. 

Free Sasha & Mocha sticker
Free Sasha & Mocha stickers circulated Park City and have become popular among Park City residents opposing the Prince mansion in Old Town. (TowLift photo)

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