Save Our Canyons has a number of concerns with the Mountain Resort Zone ordinance as currently written. Our comments will focus primarily on the following issues:
- Conditional uses and uses inconsistent with the Forest Service Manual
- Environmental dashboard
- MRZ boundaries
- Conditional uses and uses incompatible with surrounding forest lands
Conditional uses: SOC supports that many questionable uses have been moved from permitted to conditional uses ignored to receive greater public scrutiny; however, a conditional use is only distinguished from a “permitted use” in that you, the planning commission “may” impose mitigation measures. We would like to see the “may” be changed to “shall” so that uses in which we clearly agree to have significant environmental impact, or are generally undesirable in a forest and municipal watershed must undergo mitigation. Also, we would like to see opportunities for the decision to be made for conditional uses to be denied in some instances rather than be mitigated. Not every conditional use proposed by resorts should be approved in every circumstance and yet there is no opportunity to deny a conditional use. As you, the planning commission have had your hands tied by state law in the dealings of conditional uses, you should at the very least require of yourselves and of future compositions of this planning commission to repair the damages to the environment which state law binds you to permit. This error should be corrected.
Recreational uses inconsistent with those allowed on adjoining Forest Service Lands: Staff analysis states that the MRZ Recreation Zone is intended for “recreational uses consistent with recreational uses allowed in adjoining Forest Service lands.” The Forest Service Manual in the section on resource management for privately provided recreation opportunities very specifically states uses that are appropriate to seasonal or year round recreation activities and facilities. Among the uses listed in the Forest Service Manual as appropriate are: zip lines, mountain bike terrain parks, and disc golf. Among the uses the Forest Service Manual says may not be authorized “include, but are not limited to: tennis courts, waterslides and water parks, sipping pools, golf courses and amusement parks.” The Forest Service Manual defines amusement park as: “ A developed recreation area consisting primarily of: facilities or activities that are not natural resource-based; do not encourage outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature; do not, harmonize with the natural environment; are not consistent with the general policy on the use of National Forest System lands for special uses; and contain rides and other amusements that are not typically found in a natural resource-based environment, such as water slides and water parks, Ferris wheels, bumper cars, and miniature golf courses.” Furthermore, the Forest Service Manual says that the activities that should be approved are “Natural Resource Based Recreation” which it defines as: “A proposed or existing recreation activity that occurs in a natural setting where the visitor’s experience is interdependent with attributes such as mountains, forests, geology, grasslands, water bodies, flora, fauna, and natural scenery.”
The Forest Service Manual also states in Section 2340.5 that additional seasonal or year-round recreation activities and associated facilities should NOT be approved if “the visitor’s experience is not interdependent with attributes common in National Forest settings” and that uses should only be approved if the activities and facilities encourage visitors to engage with the natural setting.
Again, Staff Analysis indicates that recreation uses within the MRZ must be consistent with the recreation uses allowed by the Forest Service. The inclusion in the MRZ ordinance of uses such as alpine slide and coasters in sections 19.13.030(B) and 19.13.040(B) is in conflict with the Forest Service manual requirements for privately provided recreation opportunities. Regardless of whether or not they are permitted or conditional uses, alpine slides and coasters most definitely do not qualify under the definition of Natural Resource Based Recreation and do clearly qualify as amusement park activities which are incompatible with the Forest Service Manual. What’s more, when held to the Forest Service standard of activities encouraging engagement with the natural setting alpine slides and coasters clearly fail the test.
Other incompatible uses – sports fields and skate parks
Sports fields and skate parks are uses incompatible with the alpine environment. Neither uses conforms to the Forest Service’s Natural Resource Based Recreation requirement wherein the visitor’s experience is interdependent with attributes of the mountains and forest. To those participating in these uses their experience is not enhanced by their surrounding. A skate boarder or soccer player may just as well engage in these activities in the valley, indeed Salt Lake City just spend millions of dollars on a sports complex consisting of 16 different soccer fields to encourage these activities closer to the population base. Experiences that can be had in the valley and which are not enhanced by the mountain environment should be limited to the valley. Similarly, the very unique experiences that can be had only in the mountains should not be eroded away or become casualties of efforts by ski resorts and developers to make mountain experiences the same as those experiences that can be had in the valley.
Save Our Canyons has specific concerns with the TDR as written as well as concerns with some of the unintended consequences of the TDR section.
- Bonus Density: The bonus density incentives awarded to the resorts are overly generous. While we want to incentivize removing properties higher in the canyon from development we don’t want to necessarily encourage significantly more development at resort bases. The Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow study’s preferred scenario recommended TDR’s to preserve open space, but it only recommended incentivizing TDR’s that are sent out of the canyon areas. Incentivizing TDR’s to produce more development in the MRZ Village zone – especially when awarding a 2 to 1 bonus seems against the spirit of TDR’s as originally intended.
- Up-zoning concerns: Should the TDR’s be forwarded as currently written, do there exist protections against property owners up zoning their properties and then transferring them using the TDR? Ex. 20 acres zoned as FR 20 up zoned to FR .5 and then transferred could yield upwards of potentially 80 lots. Are there significant provisions protecting against this gaming of the zones? This is the same fight that’s being had at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and the efforts to up zone parcels in Cottonwood Heights. This practice is bad at the mouth of the canyon, and it’s equally bad in our watersheds and in the middle of the national forest.
- Increased Density: Would these increases in the base area density alter the allotted number of buildable units per the resorts’ master development?
- Potential for undercutting other land exchange and conservation programs: The proposed TDR language could undercut or come into competition with other tried and true land conservation efforts such as those pursued by the Mountain Accord, the County Open Space Board, and SLC Watershed Protection Fund
It is the opinion of Save Our Canyons that the TDR provision has not received enough debate, enough information regarding its intended and unintended consequences, and ultimately is not ready to be forwarded to the Council.
- Environmental Dashboard
There should be a place holder in the ordinance for implementing the environmental dashboard. It will be easier to ensure that we’re using this tool if we make a place for it in the ordinance today rather than opening the ordinance back up in the future and trying to insert it. The environmental dashboard will serve as the only instance in the entire ordinance where the planning decision process will be informed by scientific data. Thus far decisions have been made according to what special interests have advocated for, it’s time that we allow decisions to be informed by environmental and scientific data.
- MRZ Zones
Save Our Canyons is concerned with the composition of the MRZ Zones as currently written in the ordinance. When thinking about resort areas we’re generally thinking about the polygon that is the USFS special use permit. Within those boundaries the resorts are a combination of private and public lands, we would expect that the village district and the recreation district reside within that ski area polygon – see map provided.
We know there are thousands of acres of land owned by ski areas outside of that resort boundary. By our read of the current ordinance language, lands on Mt. Superior, Upper Cardiff Fork, Upper Days Fork, Guardsman Pass, and Silver Fork would all be eligible to be rezoned into one of the MRZ districts, either recreation or village. In doing so, the commission will be facilitating the implementation of mountain coasters, ski lifts, soccer fields, skate parks and old folks homes on these iconic and treasured landscapes. Rather than containing and controlling ski resorts, this ordinance stands to actually advance the aggressive development and sprawl of undesirable uses. Our suggestion would be to remove any uses that the public does not want to see realized in those areas. This is what recently allowed Snowbird to expand into American Fork Canyon and it’s what we want to be certain is not allowed to occur in undeveloped areas of the Cottonwoods. Prior to 2012, in Utah County’s land use ordinances there were no allowances for lifts, ziplines, mountain coasters, food and beverage outlets, or employee housing. Today, we are dealing with the poor planning decisions of the Utah County Planning Commission and County Commission and resorts are expanding their operations into areas that should not have this type of infrastructure. We don’t want to see this commission repeat the errors of Utah County’s planning commission.