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SNOWBIRD — Pardon the pun, but Snowbird's plans to expand its summertime operations have been on a roller coaster this year.
The resort's pitch to build a mountain roller coaster on Mount Superior was approved by the Salt Lake County Planning Commission in March. The county's Board of Adjustment did an about face the next month, ruling that the ordinance the Planning Commission referenced in its approval was misapplied.
Now the county is taking a revised ordinance to other planning groups in the county and collecting feedback. The revised ordinance would broaden the definition of what a ski resort is and can do.
But Snowbird communications manager Heidi Moench said the resort's interest has shifted from the mountain coaster to making sure existing summertime activities, like the finish of the Tour of Utah and Oktoberfest, can continue.
"There are no current plans to build a mountain coaster on Mount Superior," Moench said. "The existing activities the Salt Lake County mountain resorts host in the summer are considered illegal by the Board of Adjustment, and the county acknowledged this needs to be fixed."
The Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone ordinance currently defines a ski resort and its facilities as being "for downhill or cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, snowmobiling or other snow-related activities," which doesn't include summertime activities many resorts have incorporated as a way to give them year-round appeal — and income.
Language in the revised ordinance being proposed adds "accessory year-round or non-snow related activities, and associated facilities and improvements." The definition of "associated facilities" would be expanded to include "recreational and fitness facilities" and "other uses of a similar nature specifically authorized in conjunction with the operation of a year-round resort."
The existing activities the Salt Lake County mountain resorts host in the summer are considered illegal by the Board of Adjustment, and the county acknowledged this needs to be fixed.
–- Heidi Moench, Snowbird communications manager
It also adds "year-round or non-snow related activities and motorized vehicle roads and trails" to development eligible in areas with a slope of 40 to 50 percent, and adds "year-round or non-snow related activities" to areas with a slope greater than 50 percent.
The county planning division drafted amendments to the ordinance so it reflects the county's current policies and practices in place for the canyons, said Jim Braden, spokesman for Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
"All the resorts want to know if they may have summer events," Braden said. "Without amendments, previously approved events like Oktoberfest become non-conforming, and new events such as the Tour of Utah could potentially not be permitted at the resorts."
"The canyons are very important to Mayor Corroon," Braden said. "He has spent the last six years helping protect our natural environment, both for the benefit of the watershed and the economy. Balancing the two and creating an experience for future generations is his goal."
Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher said he has been tracking the ordinance change process closely. He and others are concerned ordinance changes would give ski resorts too much latitude as they expand their summertime activities.
Canyon advocate Allen Sanderson attended as the county made a presentation this week to the Millcreek Planning Commission. He said the two issues of concern for him are whether the land use question is moving in the direction people really want, and whether the county's planning division is aware of and applying all ordinances affecting county development.
"The Planning Commission is not discussing that at all," he said of related ordinances beyond the one currently on the table. "For me, that says (Salt Lake County) Planning Services is not doing its homework, and not telling us the full truth of what's out there. To me that's more aggravating than the land-use issue."
The County Council gets the final say on any change to the ordinance. Just when council members will consider changes is not yet on the calendar.