Protecting Salt Lake County canyons means tough decisions on who uses them, and how
Mountain resort • Grass-roots panel favors resort zone to cluster development, urges protection of resources, property.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

To make land-use planning for Salt Lake County's foothills and canyons more efficient, a good starting point would be to create a mountain-resort zone.

But the 14-member grass-roots panel that recently recommended that approach left the hard part to the County Council: identifying the proposed zone's boundaries and defining what uses and construction standards would be allowed within it.

In whatever ways the council and its planning staff update the county's Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone (FCOZ) ordinance, "Blue Ribbon Commission" members advised them to remember that its original principles and values are as valid now as they were when enacted in 1997.

And, as before, protection of drinking-water resources should remain the most important "driver" behind any decisions.

But the commission said the ordinance must be modernized to reflect reality. Ski resorts are no longer just winter businesses, but will cater increasingly to summer crowds too.

Allowances need to be made for that, the commissioners added, also suggesting that technology has made it possible to build things in more eco-friendly ways that won't harm the canyon watersheds — each of which is unique and should have plans tailored to it.

"What is needed is streamlining and modernization, simplifying and addressing 21st-century issues that didn't exist 16 years ago," said Terry Wood, the former television anchorman who served as spokesman for the commission appointed by then-Mayor Peter Corroon to evaluate the ordinance. "It needs to be relevant in today's world."

The diverse group — including property owners and recreationists, environmentalists and ski-resort representatives, east-siders and west-siders — spent more than 400 hours since June 2012 coming to understand the ordinance, its sticking points and potential solutions.

Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort's application to build a mountain coaster on the base of Mount Superior two years ago highlighted the need for an update. The County Planning Commission and the County Board of Adjustment reached conflicting conclusions on how FCOZ applied to the proposal.

Wood said the ambivalence was understandable and that commission members "came to see these issues not as black and white or environmentalist versus property owners, but as nuanced and multifaceted."

So while commission members agreed a mountain-resort zone was a good idea, he said, a consensus could not be reached on boundaries or the uses allowed within them.

"We've left it to you to come up with an ordinance [that is] objective, predictable and transparent," he told the County Council . "I'm sure it won't be easy."

County planning staffers have begun working on wording changes in the ordinance to reflect the advisory panel's guidance. A draft likely will be presented to the council early next year, said planner Todd Draper.

Patrick Leary, county township executive, added that a broader group of planners from around the area also will be asked to look at proposed revisions "to make sure we're on the right track."

Although the grass-roots panel said watershed protection was paramount, it also said a revised FCOZ should be flexible enough to allow "some room for reasonable accommodations in special circumstances, including financial considerations."

Protecting private property rights "is necessary," the commission members added. They recommended the county develop mechanisms, such as "transfers of development rights (TDRs)," that landowners could use to trade or sell parcels that cannot be developed because they are surrounded by public lands or face other restrictions.

These options could be used, in some cases, to help spur "clustered" growth around resort-village centers.

"The rewrite of FCOZ must specify that inholdings within the Forest Service areas do have a development value, so as to encourage their sale or trade into resort village settings where feasible," the panel's report said.

Another tricky point the panel left for the council to define involves aesthetics. The ordinance is supposed to preserve "the natural character" of the canyons and foothills, but that phrase needs to be better defined, the panel said.

Other recommendations include:

• Allowing "reasonable exceptions and waivers" to provide a balance between private property rights and environmental protection.

• Developing lighting ordinances that encourage resorts to pursue nighttime recreation initiatives.

• Integrating technical reviews into the planning process earlier so that no approvals are granted before studies are done.

• Strengthening notice requirements to increase public involvement when a development is proposed.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

The players

Members of the Blue Ribbon Commission that developed the vision for rewriting Salt Lake County's Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone (FCOZ) ordinance were:

• Martin Banks, attorney representing ski resorts

• Sarah Bennett, Emigration Canyon resident, trails enthusiast

• Laura Briefer, Salt Lake City department of public utilities

• Barbara Cameron, Big Cottonwood Canyon Community Council chairwoman

• William Coon, homeowners' association representative from the southwest valley

• Carl Fisher, executive director, Save Our Canyons

• Polly Hart, member of Salt Lake City's Historic Landmark Commission, dog lover

• Walter Hoffman, from a different homeowners' association in the southwest valley

• Linda Johnson, co-president of League of Women Voters of Salt Lake

• William McCarvill,conservation director, Wasatch Mountain Club

• Nicole Omer, former Cottonwood Heights councilwoman

• Jeff Silvestrini, chairman of Millcreek Township Council and Mount Olympus Community Council

• Marlin Struhs, adjunct faculty member who teaches economics at private colleges

• Terry Wood, former television news anchor on mountain transportation stakeholder committee