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Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort's proposal for a seven-lot subdivision on its property north of the Little Cottonwood Canyon highway passed its first test Wednesday.

The Salt Lake County Planning Commission gave initial approval to a preliminary plat for a subdivision of seven clustered lots across the highway and just up the canyon from Snowbird's No. 3 entry. The lots would occupy 6.84 acres along a private driveway that starts farther up the canyon and comes back downhill to a home (owned by Salt Lake City businessman Ian Cumming) noteworthy for its garage-to-residence elevator.

To meet zoning requirements of one lot per 20 acres, Snowbird is offering to set aside 133 acres of land higher up Mt. Superior's rugged southwest buttress as open space in perpetuity.

"We don't think we have to designate this as open space," said Snowbird General Manager Bob Bonar, but are doing so "because it's the right thing to do.

"We tried to craft a project we think and hope works well in our community," he added. "We're never able to get 100 percent agreement on anything in Little Cottonwood Canyon, but we've made really good progress on this project in making most people happy."

Not everybody, however, as detractors as well as supporters addressed the Planning Commission.

While the conservation group Save Our Canyons applauded Snowbird's intent to preserve the 133 acres, issues coordinator Jennifer Kecor said the overall proposal is "still out of touch with the desires of the public."

In initiatives such as Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow, she said, the public made clear its desire to limit land development in the canyons. This project does not comply because it crosses the road from "our perceived idea of Snowbird's base village" and encroaches on the aesthetics of iconic Mt. Superior's lower flanks, Kecor said.

Bonar said the land is within the base area identified in the resort's master plan, approved in 2006. In addition, the plan is to build on slopes of less than 30 percent, enabling the development to comply with the county's restrictive Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone ordinance without needing any waivers. The ordinance also encourages clustering, he noted.

"We believe this balances Snowbird's rights as private property owners while creating permanent open space in the Wasatch," Bonar said.

The proposal caused some heartburn for Laura Briefer, water resources manager for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities.

"The largest priority for us is to take a look at the precedential nature of this kind of clustering proposal," she said, noting that it could have implications for the city's water rights — as well as stimulate development ambitions in other parts of the Wasatch Mountains watershed.

The city's concerns will be addressed in the next phase of the approval process, a technical review that also includes input from the Salt Lake Valley Health Department and geotechnical reports assessing the development's vulnerability to avalanches, rock slides and other natural hazards.

If those reviews are positive, more detailed design work will be done before the county can approve the proposed subdivision's final plat.

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

What's next

Technical reviews that will address water and health issues, as well as the threat of avalanches and rock slides on Snowbird's proposed seven-lot subdivision.

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