SL County “green lights” Snowbird development in avalanche path

Salt Lake County & Snowbird

Everything is bassackwards up at Snowbird. To sum it up, governments are banning beer from Oktoberfest and OK-ing development, yet again rolling over on the ordinances put in place to protect and preserve our mountains and people. We’ll start with the ordinances and finish with a beer, trust us you’ll want one.

This past April, Salt Lake County had a public hearing on a modification to a Conditional Use Permit Application which was granted in October 2013. The body hearing the application and holding the hearing was the Salt Lake County Planning Commission. Snowbird wants to build a condominium project, the “Superior Lodge” located east of the Cliff Lodge, basically on top of the parking structure, adjacent the bypass road, in an avalanche path.**

The issue – Snowbirds “Superior Lodge” development is in blatant disregard of the ordinances in effect in the area, most notably the Geologic Hazards Ordinance and the provision on Avalanches. Yes, Snowbird is trying to build in one of the largest and most significant slide paths in the region – Mount Superior.

Save Our Canyons provided testimony commenting solely on the five criteria within the purview of the Planning Commission in this project, of which “The proposed use and site development plan shall comply with all other applicable laws and ordinances” is one. We made comments directly on two ordinances, 1. the Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone and 2. the Geologic Hazards Ordinance. The Planning Commission, rightly denied this application – however – Snowbird appealed to the newly created Administrative Law Judge (which replaced the Board of Adjustment in Salt Lake County).

After hearing the case the ALJ decided (view decision- to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision, in effect granting Snowbird the authority to develop inside an avalanche slide path – a decision directly in conflict with the ordinances, which prohibit construction for human occupancy in “red zones” which are defined as areas where an avalanche has impact forces greater than 600 pounds per square foot (psf) or 28.73 kilopascals (kPa). Here is a page from Snowbird’s own avalanche study that shows the impacts from avalanches in the area in some cases more than 10 times greater impacts than what the ordinance allows.


Ordinances are put in place to help protect our environment, but also to protect people from hazards. Over the years, we were under the impression that we were trying to protect people from avalanches, increase safety in our canyons and along roadways, and put in place ordinances to help makes sure that this is being followed. Are avalanches an issue in these canyons? This decision would lead you to believe they are not.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that the ALJ cited that neither FCOZ or the Geologic Hazards ordinance were part of the record (sorry, but the law is always part of the record) because they weren’t brought up at the hearing. But we did bring them up! Salt Lake County holds public hearings, but does not acknowledge them to be part of the record. We will continue to fight to protect our mountains and use the ordinances that the public created to do so, but it seem as if the County Planning department will find any and every way to silence the public and public opinion as it pertains to development in our canyons.

We need sweeping changes at the county. We need sweeping changes to state code. We need changes to administrative processes that cut the public out of the planning processes in effort to expedite development of our watersheds and canyons favoring developers.

Now for the beer. It is just crazy that the DABC is talking about not allowing beer at Oktoberfest at Snowbird. Its an instance where we sympathize with Snowbird and in an effort to help we’d like to make the pitch to turn Oktoberfest into a “Community Event” making it fall in line with DABC regulations. Snowbird, it would be our pleasure to co-host Oktoberfest with you, inviting the community into our mountains, to appreciate and learn about the resources just minutes from the Salt Lake Valley. Hikes, bratwurst, sauerkraut, local beer, a community celebration of place – with a whole lot of um-pah-pah. Think about it, the offer is on the table, we are here to help.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s