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Wasatch County poised to approve resort near Strawberry Reservoir

Published January 18, 2014 12:15 pm

Wasatch County • Strawberry Ranch would turn cattle operation into family vacation spot.
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Wasatch County planners have recommended preliminary approval for a vacation resort which could bring 814 residential units, 10 lodges and 400,000 square feet of commercial space to private ranch lands near Strawberry Reservoir's south shore.

While the proposed Strawberry Ranch could greatly expand the county's tax base and recreational opportunities, some property owners near the Aspen Grove Marina fear such a development would degrade the very qualities that draw people to the Strawberry Valley.

The county's planning commission voted Thursday to advance the proposal to the County Council, which will take up the matter at its Wednesday meeting and likely assign a date for a public hearing. The council hopes to resolve the location of a fire station before making its decision.

Strawberry Ranch is the brainchild of Heber City developer Burke Roney, who envisions a 704-building destination on a 7,010-acre working cattle operation about a mile from the marina and Soldier Creek Dam.

Its commercial amenities would include an activities center, outdoor education center, conference facilities, lodges, a welcome center with a store and restaurant, and space for outfitters and storage, according to Roney's engineer, Paul Berg. There are also plans for 148 RV pads.

The project has earned a "density bonus" because its master plan calls for measures to minimize its footprint, rehabilitate Willow Creek and provide 12 miles of public trails. The developer is requesting to build 814 "equivalent residential units," but that doesn't mean these structures will be strewn about on 10-acre spacings.

"It will be clustered so that we have 95 percent open space," Berg said.

Some of the units are to be sold to private owners, while the developer will hold some for the rental market.

Roney hopes to begin construction as early as this spring on the project's first phase, which features 50 cabins ranging in size from 500 to 2,000 square feet, along with a family-reunion lodge and the activities center. But approvals from several state and county agencies remain to be secured before work can progress.

A major issue for the developer is the use of the road over the quarter-mile-long earthen dam across the Strawberry River, forming the 26-square-mile reservoir that is Utah's most popular fishery. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is concerned about over-dam traffic for security reasons, but it is willing to allow Roney access until a downstream bypass and bridge can be built, according to Wasatch County planning director Doug Smith.

But the bureau can close access at any time and substantial changes to how the over-dam road is used may trigger the need for an environmental review.

An agreement has been drafted that would require Strawberry Ranch to deposit $1,500 into escrow for each unit it sells. This account would help fund a bypass bridge below the dam, expected to cost $3 million.

The developers are also working with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, which administers most of the land surrounding the ranch, to secure use of forest roads along the reservoir's south and west shores. Developers also want access to forest roads south to U.S. Highway 6 as a back-up evacuation route in the event of a wild fire.

The idea would be for the Forest Service to add relevant roads to a list of unpaved routes Wasatch County maintains, and the developer would contribute to the cost of upgrading and keeping them open.