In addition to FCOZ, Salt Lake County’s Mountainous Planning Commission is also discussing a new concept, a Mountain Resort Zone (MRZ). The MRZ would be specific to ski resort property and would split the zoning on those properties between “village” and “recreation” zones with the purpose of ensuring that any additional development occurs only in the appropriate zone. Note: With a saccharine faux quaintness the ordinance attempts to rebrand resort areas as “village zones.” Because SOC values precision in language we’ll refrain from using this euphemism and call the “village zone” what it is, a resort zone.
The idea behind these two zoning areas is that the uses and infrastructure appropriate to a resort’s base area would, through this zoning, be confined to the resort zone. This would also be the area where a majority of development activity would likely take place. Other parts of a ski resort’s property, away from the base area and located where skiing and trails are located, would become the recreation zone where the only development allowed to occur would be in support of recreation activities.
Save Our Canyons tentatively supports the concept of a Mountain Resort Zone and the two new zones, resort and recreation, which it would create; however, the devil is in the details. And the more we’re digging in, the more devilish we’re finding some of these details to be.
For example, the proposed MRZ ordinance suggests easing the way for more zip lines, alpine slides, mountain coasters, skate parks, and sports fields in recreation and the resort zones.
In the MRZ’s resort zone at the ski areas base where the greatest infrastructure is located, ski resorts are seeking exceptions from some of the most critical elements of FCOZ’s environmental protections, including: stream and wetland setbacks, development on slopes steeper than has ever been allowed, greater building height than has ever been allowed, and development on ridge lines. The ski resorts are also attempting to remove language requiring water availability for transferable properties, thus allowing for additional building density in areas where they do have water. This will have the end result of driving additional undesirable development and further padding the pockets of the resorts and their investors.
These provisions incline us to believe that ski resorts see the MRZ and its two new zones as an opportunity to create weaker zoning districts where environmental, aesthetic, and health protections are second to development and commercial interests.
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Save Our Canyons believes it’s critical that the MRZ isn’t created at the expense of sacrificing the crucial, hard-fought environmental protections gained under FCOZ.
Just as with FCOZ, ski resorts want zoning ordinances weakened to more closely mirror those of other, more developed, ski regions. However, in their myopic chase for real estate bucks, ski resorts forget that Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons aren’t even remotely comparable to some of these other regions. Not only is the geography substantially different, but the demands on the canyons as watershed, wildlife habitat, and for recreation makes these canyons unique in a way that should be recognized and preserved.
Also critical to Save Our Canyons support of the proposed MRZ is the simple matter of boundaries. While the MRZ applies only to private land owned by the ski resorts we need to know how the boundaries of resort versus recreation zones will be delineated? How do we ensure that the boundaries of these new zones are drawn transparently, with public and scientific input, and that the districts are drawn according to use rather than according to inappropriate parcel boundaries?
One nightmare scenario we can foresee is in a parcel of land owned by Snowbird. This parcel, which originated as an old mining claiming, begins at the existing resort base and extends a significant way up Mt. Superior. How would this parcel be zoned?
Part of the parcel, that is directly at the resort’s base would clearly be resort zone, but would that zoning be forced upon the entire parcel despite its inappropriateness? Would this then clear the way for undesirable McMansions where SOC has successfully staved off that threat in the past? Would this clear the way for an Iron Blossom hotel clone going up Mt. Superior? Or would the parcel be subdivided and zoned as both recreation and resort areas? Would this then mean that Snowbird would give another attempt to desecrating Mt. Superior, one of the most iconic mountains in the Wasatch, with a roller coaster or another completely inappropriate use as they’ve tried in the past?
There are a lot of unknowns and a great need for the public to make its voice heard on appropriate and inappropriate activities, infrastructure and uses in the Wasatch Canyons.
While Save Our Canyons hesitantly supports the notion of creating an MRZ to provide better predictability and certainty with regard to future uses and development, our ultimate goal of protecting the remaining wild and environmental characteristics of the Wasatch are in conflict with any additional development that does not strictly adhere to environmental protections.
Save Our Canyons will continue working on the MRZ ordinance as it is debated in the Mountainous Planning Commission through the Spring.
Once passed out of the Mountainous Planning Commission the MRZ will be placed before the Salt Lake County Council for adoption. If you value the Wasatch and don’t want additional development please contact both the Mountain Planning Commission and the County Council and let your feelings on the future of the Wasatch be known. As always, go to our website to sign up for updates and like us on Facebook to get the most up to date information and to help protect the Wasatch Mountains.