Salt Lake County’s Mountain Resort Zone

In addition to FCOZ, Salt Lake County’s Mountainous Planning Commission has been laboring since early this year on a new zoning concept, a Mountain Resort Zone (MRZ). The planning commission has been holding dozens of working and public meetings to arrive at an ordinance to be forwarded to the Salt Lake County Council to review in October.

Save Our Canyons has been working on the Mountain Resort Zone since the very beginning and while we’re not happy with everything in the ordinance, we’re proud of what we’ve been able to do to improve it before the Mountainous Planning Commission.

So what is the MRZ?

The MRZ is specific to ski resort properties and splits 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.

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 village zone. This would also be the area where future development activities would be concentrated. Other parts of a ski resort’s property, away from the base area where skiing and trails are located, would become the recreation zone where the only development allowed would be in support of recreation activities.

By tirelessly engaging with the planning commission and with the help of hundreds of emails from SOC supporters we’ve been able to walk back most, but not all, of the worst items in the original draft ordinance.

Before getting in to what we’ve walked back, here’s the worst that we lost in close votes before the planning commission. The MRZ ordinance possibly eases the way for resorts to develop more zip lines, alpine slides, mountain coasters; items which the Forest Service has deemed appropriate uses on Forest Service lands. Despite this item getting through the planning commission we still have the opportunity to fight it at the County Council.

We’ve fought back efforts by resorts to establish skate parks, sports fields, developments in areas away from the ski resort bases and the weakening of stream and wetland setbacks. Significantly, SOC was successful in two other areas that we identified as being incredibly problematic: the location of the mountain resort zone boundary and Transfer of Development Rights.

The mountain resort zone boundary, as voted on by the Mountain Planning Commission and forwarded to the County Council, would tie the new zone to the existing USFS ski area permit. If we can hold the line on this it means that ski resorts will not be able to expand their base areas beyond the USFS permit, effectively locking county zones to the boundaries established by the USFS and Mountain Accord. This is a significant win in our efforts to freeze resort expansion. The Transfer of Development Rights section of the ordinance immediately caused consternation at its first unveiling. As written, the TDR section would have allowed properties outside of ski resorts to be transferred to the resort bases. While it sounds like a good idea, the ordinance would have incentivized this process by creating bonuses for the ski resorts that would have both triggered a wave of land speculation on previously unbuildable properties and significantly increased resort expansion.

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 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.

There remain some unknowns and a tremendous need for the public to make its voice heard on appropriate and inappropriate activities, infrastructure, and uses in the Wasatch Canyons when this ordinance makes its way to the County Council this October. If you value the Wasatch and don’t want additional development, including making it easier for resorts to develop coasters, slides and zip lines in the canyons, please prepare to help make the case before the County Council this October.

Thanks to members of the Mountainous Planning Commission for allowing us the time and opportunity to thoroughly engage on the creation of this new zone and for their commitment to the public process and to understanding the details of this complex ordinance.


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