Powder Mountain buyer riles Eden residents
Eden • Residents in this scenic Ogden Valley village tend to be fiercely protective of its pastoral feel. So when energetic 20-somethings rented a house on a dead-end road and began hosting large gatherings, neighbors pushed back.
Stringtown Road, two lanes wide without shoulders or sidewalks, offered up pavement where nearby grade-schoolers could exercise, locals could walk their dogs and, in one man's case, stroll his llamas.
But many of those activities dropped off since the Washington, D.C.-based Summit Series, LLC brought its hustle and bustle into the rural community that roughly 600 residents call home. A drive through Ogden Valley delivers panoramic views of the Wasatch Mountains and Pineview Reservoir.
As purchasers of the nearby Powder Mountain Ski Resort, Summit's merry band of entrepreneurs gathered support for plans to develop a clustered community of about 500 homes on the mountain. Past developers, driven more by the bottom line, have sought to do much more.
But Summit seems to have fallen short in winning over some of its neighbors, despite staging six town hall meetings since its February 2012 arrival.
"We have a daughter with autism. She walks her little dog and I can't, without fear, send her out on that road anymore," Stringtown homeowner Eric Sontag recently told Weber County Commissioner Jan Zogmaister.
Sontag was among half a dozen neighbors venting to their county representatives after posting a petition online about the "party house" that appeared to be functioning largely as a business.
"They have installed three kitchens, six massage rooms, are serviced by several large trucks delivering food weekly, and have installed three commercial dumpsters," the petition claimed, asking the county to enforce its single-family zoning laws.
Summit declined The Salt Lake Tribune's requests to tour the home, instead extending the offer to visit its four commercial sites in town.
Summit Chief Executive Officer Elliott Bisnow, 27, said that he and another employee actually live in the more than 8,600-square-foot log structure that, according to county tax rolls, sits on nine acres. But, at times, it serves as a gathering spot for the company's 40 employees, friends, families and prospective clients.
Weber County Code Enforcement Officer Iris Hennon said she's fielded three complaints about traffic and partying at the house and that an investigation is underway.
"Part of the ongoing investigation is to determine if business is being conducted there or is it just an extreme lifestyle," Hennon said, noting that 40 Summit Series employees live in other homes around the valley but congregate there because of the home's many amenities, some installed by Summit with the appropriate building permits.
Summit additions included four massage rooms, a huge steam area, two changing rooms, a stage and a yoga area in the basement.
Hennon's challenging task is to determine whether any business is being conducted in the single-family dwelling not to crack down on entertaining of friends and family.
"These are delicate questions," Hennon said. "We are not the bedroom police."
In early April, Summit met with neighbors and heard their concerns, Hennon said, promising to limit gatherings at the Stringtown residence.
Fueled by big ideas, big money • "Ogden is explosive we see it having the chance to become the next Boulder [Colo.]," Bisnow said during an interview at Wolf Creek Resort's welcome center, one of four sites where Summit has set up shop.
"All the development could be in Ogden," Bisnow said, "and Eden could be this preserved, magical place."
He attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison on a tennis scholarship. While there, he teamed with his father, Mark Bisnow, to start a digital media business that hosted events and delved into the human side of real estate.
Before graduating, Bisnow left to fully commit himself to a new business venture, launching the Summit Series in 2008 with 19 entrepreneurs who gathered at Utah's Alta Ski Area for a few days of revelatory recreation.
Summit's star rose quickly.
By March 2009, the White House approached the youthful think tank to help spur economic-recovery discussions. Subsequent conventions grew in numbers and included DC10 in Washington D.C., "Summit at Sea" in 2011, and Summit Basecamp in Squaw Valley, Calif., in 2012.
Event speakers, donating their services, included former President Bill Clinton, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, General Electric Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock and more.
At age 24, Bisnow was featured in Inc. magazine as one of America's coolest 30 entrepreneurs under 30. Since moving to Eden, the company grew from 19 to 40 employees.
Summit already has purchased about 1,500 acres in the Ogden Valley, Bisnow said, including a 40-acre parcel formerly earmarked for a second golf course. Summit's aim is to preserve the land in conservation easements.
"We're of the opinion that the valley doesn't need another golf course," said Summit Partner Thayer Walker, a former journalist for Outside magazine who joined the company 3Â½ years ago, enthralled with the idea of achieving positive outcomes through collaboration.
Summit is poised to finalize its Powder Mountain transaction by the end of April and could pay up to $40 million in funds gathered from investors. Bisnow declined to confirm the final purchase price before closing.
"The way we've funded the project is through a community of people who care about the valley and care about calling it home," Bisnow said. "We're all invested in this for the long term."
The company's website terms the future Powder Mountain community Summit Eden as "a new kind of neighborhood where friends, family, and the leaders of today and tomorrow gather in an environment created to catalyze personal and collective growth."
Culture clash • Stringtown parents Jeff and Allexis Owen credited Summit with addressing some of the neighborhood's concerns such as removing one large dumpster and shielding two others from plain view. The company also began shutting down outside pole lights by late evening and acquired four white passenger vans to ferry people back and forth between its Eden offices and the Stringtown residence.
However, fears still fester over noise, overloading of the home's single-family septic tank, vehicles exceeding the road's 35 mph speed limit, and the graveling over of possible U.S. Forest Service land behind the house for parking.
Neighbor Dennis Peterson said that Summit had removed part of a fence to install the graveled lot.
Last week, Ogden District Ranger Renee Flanagan said the agency sent an employee to the property and identified a potential trespass on Forest Service land. If a land survey confirms that breach, Flanagan said, the agency will contact the landowner.
According to the 34-year-old Walker, Summit did not remove any fencing, but did gravel over land associated with the rental house.
With the four commercial offices in place, Walker said he anticipates a significant shift of activities to those locations, with occasional summertime barbecues being held at the Stringtown house.
Summit's plans for the first phase of Powder Mountain development involve 154 clustered homes capped at 4,000 square feet in size. Affordable 450- to 900-square-foot cabins are also envisioned in the mix of housing units.
Walker declined to disclose salary ranges for Summit employees, but said the staff is well-paid and receives good benefits.
Revenues flow to the privately held company from two main sources: investments and entry fees to Summit events that start around $2,500 per person, Walker said.
Weber County commissioners recently approved a $22 million bond to be paid by property owners within the development's special assessment area that will fund construction of roads, sewer and water systems slated to start this summer on the mountain.
Support mixed with skepticism • Steve Clarke, chairman of Ogden Valley's grass-roots Growth with Excellence Mandate (GEM) committee, described himself as a "hopeful" Summit supporter. However, he was glad that Stringtown residents voiced their concerns, causing Summit to be more responsive.
"They are young, and this is their first major development effort," Clarke said, adding that "they seem to be very environmentally sensitive."
Sandra Tuck, a Liberty resident for 43 years and longtime member of Weber County's Planning Commission, is far more skeptical about the growth that Summit could usher in.
"They take things for granted and have no clue about what's in this area," Tuck said."There are limiting factors that these folks don't understand" namely the two narrow winding roads largely used to enter and exit the valley, the limited water supply and the lack of a municipal sewer system.
Tuck said she's not against all development, having personally signed off on the Moose Hollow condos and certain phases of Wolf Creek."But it's not a Park City it doesn't have the infrastructure," Tuck said. "You have to be here for quite a long time to realize that this valley is too small to handle large venues" citing hours of stalled traffic, loss of livestock and crop damage after crowds descended on the valley for broadly hailed events.
Shanna Francis, a fifth-generation resident of Huntsville and Eden, member of the Ogden Valley Land Trust and editor of the
Ogden Valley News , expressed deep concern about the area's watershed.
"Ogden Valley has some of the most pristine aquifers in the state," Francis said, fearing that more construction and further drilling of holes and wells could eventually foul the water supply that feeds all of Ogden."We're hoping that it's done responsibly," Francis said of Summit's pending development, "and that the impacts are minimized."