Early last year, a twice-weekly newspaper in Park City, Utah, published a story on the rejection of a state measure that would’ve allowed tech billionaire Matthew Prince to build an 11,000-square-foot mansion on a hill with little say from locals.

It was the first time the Park Record had ever written about Prince’s mansion. And then something curious happened: The paper started covering Prince’s plans more regularly, and positively. In January, it reported on Prince describing his future home as “something to be proud of.” Then it suggested the city was putting Prince’s home through a longer review than normal because of his “celebrity nature.” A week later, it called out a local official for trying to “re-legislate” his project after it was approved. 

One major change had occurred at the Park Record between the time of that first story and the rest: Prince bought the paper. And Don Rogers, the editor Prince hired to run it, is living rent-free in one of his properties at the moment.

Rogers says he doesn’t believe Prince’s ownership of the paper (or his current living arrangements) poses a conflict of interest. The Park Record identifies its owner in coverage. Even so, this arrangement is one of the multiple ways that Prince has irked some Park City denizens. They accuse him of steamrolling his way into a new sprawling home that would eclipse surrounding residences and challenge local height and size limits. They’ve painted him as a bully who turns petty when he doesn’t get his way. And at an April 30 review to consider an appeal of his project’s approval, they plan to fight back.

In Park City, “billionaires can’t just buy what they want,” said Jim Doilney, a resident and former city council member.

Bruce Baird, an attorney for Prince, said he doesn’t agree with the characterization of Prince as a bully. If anything, he said, Prince is being bullied by his neighbors who are “trying to play the victim card.”

Prince, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Cloudflare Inc., a cybersecurity company valued at more than $30 billion, is certainly not the first tech billionaire to get into dust-ups with his neighbors. At a much grander scale, Salesforce Inc. CEO Marc Benioff has been buying tracts of land on Hawaii’s Big Island, raising concerns from locals about property prices and local culture. Oracle Corp. co-founder Larry Ellison’s purchase of the Hawaiian island of Lanai infuriated residents, who learned seemingly overnight that he’d become their boss, landlord, or both.

Prince’s own conflict with locals in Park City began after he bought a property on 220 King Road in late 2020 where he proposed to build a larger, taller home, a pool and “accessory” buildings. His new home would cut into a mountainside just beneath an open space that taxpayers had bought for $64 million to fend off future development.

After many discussions of rules and regulations, city officials eventually cleared Prince’s plans. But a group of locals led by residents Eric and Susan Hermann have appealed, maintaining that his house would violate ordinances.

What has arguably bothered locals just as much as Prince’s project itself is how he’s gone about it. His failed effort to slip a bill through the state legislature — brought to light by the Salt Lake Tribune — was not well received. Nor was the way he tried to rally support.

At a Feb. 14 hearing, one of Prince’s supporters described himself as a neighbor but didn’t mention that he’d co-founded a tech company with Prince and had known him for years.  Prince submitted a letter of support for his plans signed on behalf of a neighboring property — a property that he himself owned. “It’s not uncommon for people to comment on public matters without revealing all relationships,” Baird said.

Shortly after the Hermanns appealed the city’s approval of the Prince house, Prince filed a complaint against their two Bernese Mountain dogs, Sasha and Mocha. He accused the dogs of chasing people and called for a ban against them on a nearby trail. He also sued the Hermanns over a rock wall between their properties.  “We are disappointed (albeit not surprised) that he would stoop to such tactics,’’ Eric Hermann said by email.

Meanwhile, “Save Sasha and Mocha” stickers are being distributed around town, and residents have flocked to the Instagram page of a local radio station to support the dogs.

“If it hadn't gotten to the stage where the Hermanns were doing what they're doing,” Baird said, “perhaps neighbors could have sat down and talked about it.”

In February, Prince’s Park Record newspaper published a letter to the editor from local freelance journalist Michelle Deininger, who criticized Prince’s plans and chastised the paper itself for its “one-sided” coverage.

“The Princes say their finished home will be “something to be proud of,”’ Deininger wrote. “But will anyone feel that way about the local paper by then?”

Alongside her letter, the Park Record ran three letters in support of the Prince house.

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.