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The Salt Lake County Council has agreed to put the three ski areas it regulates despite their objections into the new Mountainous Planning District.
In doing so, the council went along with Mayor Ben McAdams' proposal to create a single planning district to handle land-use issues in the central Wasatch Mountains. That includes all the canyons from Little Cottonwood to Parleys, but it would not include Emigration, Red Butte or City Creek canyons.
Alta also is excluded because it has its own town planning district.
McAdams' goal is consistent with the efforts of the Mountain Accord process to treat the potentially overused Wasatch canyons holistically, developing an expertise that will help balance environmental, economic, recreational and transportation needs.
But representatives of Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton ski resorts think the county is "putting the cart before the horse."
They implored the council to delay establishing the new planning district until two longstanding matters are resolved the revision of the Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone (FCOZ) ordinance governing building in the canyons and the potential creation of a zone specifically for mountain resorts.
They particularly disliked a provision in the law that says that once the Mountainous Planning District is in place, it will always have jurisdiction over land-use issues within its boundaries even if private-property owners in the canyons decide at some point to annex into a valley city.
"You're making this forever for us. We can never get out from under the Mountainous Planning District," said Bob Bonar, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort's general manager.
He said the resorts and the county have a long history of working well together to resolve issues for the common good, but "this has not been a collaborative event or activity. You have not, or your people have not, listened to our input or considered all of the time, effort and resources we put into getting our voices heard."
"We are not on board," Bonar emphasized. "We are not in favor of the [planning district] without our voice being heard on something that locks us into a very unacceptable situation forever."
Marty Banks, a Salt Lake City attorney representing Solitude and Brighton resorts in Big Cottonwood Canyon as well as Snowbird, called the planning district premature.
The county doesn't even know if the planning district is workable, he argued, further complicating efforts to come up with acceptable FCOZ and resort ordinances.
"As those ordinances are prepared in their current state, they fall short of creating a level playing field to enable us to compete with other regional ski resorts," Banks said.
These arguments had a receptive ear with County Councilman Max Burdick, whose southeast county district includes both Cottonwood canyons.
"Your concerns haven't been disregarded. I hope I can kindle some hope in you still that we'll get to your points," he said. "The case is not closed. You are not forgotten. We'll see what we can do in the next few weeks."
Councilman Steve DeBry echoed Burdick's thoughts, pledging "to get into the weeds to see your concerns so we can address them. You're definitely an economic driver. We love our ski resorts. We want to be fair and reasonable with what we do."
Councilman Sam Granato voted against the district, siding with his Millcreek Township constituents who wanted Mill Creek Canyon taken out of the Mountainous Planning District and returned to their township.
But six council members voted Tuesday to go along with McAdams' desire to get the planning district up and running so it has a track record before next session, when the Legislature must act to extend a June 1 expiration date.
Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw said he believed that creating the planning district and dealing with FCOZ were two separate issues.
Getting the district in place now is vital, he added, because the County Planning Commission that previously handled issues in Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood canyons may not have enough members to function after next Tuesday's Community Preservation election.
That's because several current County Planning Commission members live in islands of unincorporated land that could be annexed into adjacent cities in the election, leaving them ineligible to continue.
Their board could be melded into a new nine-member Mountainous Planning Commission. In the next couple of weeks, its nine members will be nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
Councilman Jim Bradley had the last word: "We should pass the [planning district] today and deal with FCOZ down the road."
The council concurred.