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A tale of Park City: Soap opera-type feud sizzles among city’s elite

PARK CITY — “I’m Matthew Prince. I — as has been reported — hate dogs. I also hate rainbows and kittens and long walks on the beach. But I did grow up in Park City,” said the richest man in Utah during a heated appeal hearing last week that dragged on for six hours, almost until midnight, over plans for his controversial Old Town mansion.

“That was supposed to be a joke, by the way,” Prince said, smiling tiredly, “but it’s 9 o’clock at night so nobody laughed.” His pregnant wife Tatiana sat in the front row watching.

If the couple had chosen any other neighborhood in town to build their 11,000-square-foot industrial-chic mansion — the Canyons, Promontory, Old Ranch Road, the list goes on — maybe it wouldn’t have sparked the public backlash, rebounding through the Utah Legislature and national headlines, gathering mudslingers and bootstrappers and vitriol, while lawyers on retainer batted around nuisance lawsuits fueled by some of the deepest pockets in the state.

But that is what has happened in the Treasure Hill neighborhood of Park City, with strict building codes, spectacular views of the valley and hardly a house worth less than a cool $2 million as far as the eye can see.

The three-person appeal board’s task that evening — finding whether the Park City Planning Commission erred in granting the approval of another ski-in, ski-out mansion adjacent to the Deer Valley Resort — was in some ways a sideshow, providing one last stage for residents of the historic Old Town, and interested parties elsewhere, to air their grievances.

New house in Old Town

Since 2022, Tatiana and Matthew Prince have been working with Park City planners on approvals to tear down two old houses and build a new one on lots in a historic building district. The public meetings and workshops stirred up significant public scrutiny, as some feared the couple’s wealth would allow them special treatment, pushing through a house that doesn’t conform to strict historic building standards in Old Town.

Matthew Prince, 49, is the co-founder of cybersecurity company Cloudflare and son of a successful restaurant franchiser. He is part of a family tree with roots in Park City and has an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.

A rendering of Matthew and Tatiana Prince's proposed house that has stirred up controversy in the Old Town neighborhood of Park City.
A rendering of Matthew and Tatiana Prince’s proposed house that has stirred up controversy in the Old Town neighborhood of Park City. (Photo: Park City)

An initial work session with the city’s planning department was scheduled in October 2022, but it was rain-checked for a year, while the Princes (now infamously) attempted to lobby the Utah Legislature in March 2023, hoping to subvert local controls as a way to build their new residence. Park City Mayor Nann Worel released a statement at the time reprimanding the Princes for “special treatment of one resident over the community.” Those efforts failed after local media coverage.

Upon that shaky foundation, the Princes began in earnest trying to get their house through the planning process last year. City staff at the time expressed consternation that the plan did not comply with building height, footprint, area and massing requirements. An independent historical review echoed those findings.

The family’s neighbors and co-stars in the community drama, Eric Hermann and Susan Fredston-Hermann, say they have gone to every work session and meeting since October 2023, and told KSL.com the approvals the Princes received were “incomprehensible.”

“I think there has been a great deal of obfuscation,” Fredston-Hermann said. Among the few letters of support for the project, for example, are those from a lawyer and a property manager, each representing an unnamed “neighbor” directly adjacent to the Princes. They actually represent the Princes, who have bought up a number of parcels under different business names.

Matthew Prince and his lawyer have repeatedly indicated the Hermanns have no right to complain, living in a 19,000-square-foot complex. According to Zillow, the two houses their family trust owns are each less than 4,000 square feet.

After a controversial split decision in February by the planning commission, leading to the approval of the house, the Hermanns and eight others filed an appeal. They claimed the Princes’ house plan was still out of compliance with the historic building requirements of the area.

Lawsuits, dogs and a comedy show

Tensions in the neighborhood rose exponentially after the appeal. Communication broke down between the two primary parties, and the Princes filed a lawsuit, picked up by news media across the world, claiming the Hermanns’ two Bernese mountain dogs ”aggressively chased and cornered” residents and guests while the dogs were using a trail easement across the Princes’ property. “Dogs aren’t pedestrians,” the Princes claimed, while installing surveillance cameras and hanging “no dogs” signs along the path connecting the Hermanns to open space beyond.

The Princes purchased adjoining land, which also happens to abut the Hermanns, when their original house plan stalled and again filed another lawsuit against the Hermanns over an alleged slight encroachment of an old rock wall on their newly acquired property.

A screenshot showing a survey of the recently acquired land by Matthew and Tatiana Prince, and a rock wall they claimed in a lawsuit encroaches onto their property.
A screenshot showing a survey of the recently acquired land by Matthew and Tatiana Prince, and a rock wall they claimed in a lawsuit encroaches onto their property. (Photo: Court documents)

All of these actions were done with shell companies, further amplifying rumors and conspiracies, which Matthew Price addressed at the meeting by saying, because of his work, “I get death threats. I get kidnapping threats. We were trying to keep a low profile.”

Bruce Baird, one of the Princes’ lawyers, told KSL.com his team sent the Hermanns a letter offering to try to resolve the disputes in private but required they sign a nondisclosure agreement and that their conversations be inadmissible in court. The Hermanns turned down that offer. “It’s hard to continue talking with somebody when they’ve made it a clear point that they don’t want to talk anymore,” Baird said.

Locals have recently responded to the conflict by dispersing stickers featuring the Hermanns’ dogs, Sasha and Mocha, and a feature in the local Egyptian Theater’s annual Follies comedy show.

But the Hermanns did not find this a laughing matter. The couple, and others, claimed the billionaires donated or promised donations to local nonprofits in return for their support “that otherwise would have certainly opposed his mansion.” Eric Hermann told the crowd he believed the Princes purchased the Park City Record to “squelch” their free speech, turning the newspaper into a “personal megaphone.” Another of the Princes’ lawyers, Wade Budge, called these “slanderous attacks.”

In a later response, Prince said, “We’re not the ones who sent out letters to everyone in town saying show up and complain about this.”

Sasha and Mocha, dogs belonging to Eric Hermann and Susan Fredston-Hermann, pose in front of the Egyptian Theater for the Park City Follies in April.
Sasha and Mocha, dogs belonging to Eric Hermann and Susan Fredston-Hermann, pose in front of the Egyptian Theater for the Park City Follies in April. (Photo: Eric Hermann and Susan Fredston-Hermann)

The Hermanns blamed the exit of two staff members, including the senior planner assigned to the project, on the city being “battered by lawyers.” They called the experience “a campaign of harassment and intimidation intended to sue us into submission.”

‘Everything in Park City affects everybody else’

In the midst of the controversy, the Princes bought the Park City Record, the town’s 143-year-old local paper. They said they were saving it from financial ruin and installed new editor Don Rogers in March 2023, at the height of the lobbying scandal.

Michelle Deininger, former managing editor of NPR affiliate KPCW in Park City, wrote a letter saying the Record’s coverage of the feud on Treasure Hill “omitted integral facts and relevant voices, resembling propaganda more than news” — a claim Rogers disputed in his weekly “Journalism Matters” column.

Another former KPCW manager, Larry Warren, called Rogers out for using his column to demonize the Hermanns but not covering the rock wall encroachment lawsuit, writing, “As a reader, the rich guys feud is amusing. But as a journalist of some 50 years myself, I’m afraid I’m rapidly losing respect for the venerable old Park Record and its leadership.”

“Everything in Park City affects everybody else,” said longtime resident Nick Schaper, which explains why this issue became such a powder keg. He said the weaponizing of attorneys, the demonizing of dogs, the rewriting of easements, and the introduction of credibility issues into a 100-year-old local paper really do harm the city.

The Princes argue their plans are good for the neighborhood. They are committed to living in town and doing away with the constant rotation of short-term rental guests, one of which Prince says he found drunk and naked in the backyard of his nearby house in 2019.

Prince pointed to the construction of a turnaround on the hillside he was voluntarily building to ensure that emergency vehicles can fight fires in the neighborhood, which was not required by code. He said they solicited input from adjoining neighbors and changed the house plans accordingly, though some complained he didn’t talk to everyone he should have.

But many are still deeply troubled by the potential house on Treasure Hill overlooking Old Town, a mountain some consider almost sacred, a symbol of the “historic heart” that for Park City residents who have lived there before its boom, makes them unique compared to other ski towns. One commenter said the open slopes surrounding the town was like “a cosmic hug.”

Treasure Hill rises above Park City on Aug. 3, 2018.
Treasure Hill rises above Park City on Aug. 3, 2018. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In 2018, residents voted overwhelmingly to approve a $48 million open space bond to permanently preserve and protect the nearby land from development.

‘There needs to be some healing’

“Winning is not everything; how you win is going to count in this community,” Schaper said at the meeting. “At the end of this, we have to integrate back into the community, and everything that’s done here will be judged and measured.”

Others expressed similar sentiments. “How we go about our business is as important as the decisions that are made,” David Bennett said. “There needs to be some healing. … The whole process just doesn’t feel right.”

“This is the home where my daughter is going to get married,” Matthew Prince said, becoming emotional. His vision from the start, he said, was, “I don’t want to be the obnoxious home across the hill. I want to blend in, I want to disappear.”

Now, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like for the neighborhood after the spectacle. Trust in institutions has suffered a great deal through this process, residents said. The thing all the fighting was about — the character of the neighborhood — was also that which was most damaged in all the fighting.

The appeal board ultimately struck down the Hermanns’ appeal in a 2-1 vote, remanding the case to the Park City Planning Commission to work out some smaller zoning details.

“Rather than changing the structure to comply with code, they effectively changed code to comply with the structure,” Eric Hermann said.

Two civil cases between the parties are still to be decided in district court, small issues Baird said will not delay the project. After that, a historic review is required before building permits are issued.

According to Baird, they will be moving forward quickly with the project now.

“I’ve done several dozens of controversial projects across the state of Utah. In my experience, almost without exception, after the initial kerfluffle happens, and the property gets built, two years later, no one gives a damn.”

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