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Editorial: Canyon zoning must err on the side of preservation
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Every land use question that comes before a local governing body states the same basic problem: How does a civilized society allow people to do what they want, with property they own, in a way that does not harm the rights of the owners of many other properties?

The problem Salt Lake County officials face in the canyons that lie above Salt Lake City is just that. Only more so. Much more so.

In a recent report to the County Council, a committee appointed to look into the necessary update of the county's 1997 Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone set some proper standards to guide the future of the precious area. It restated the need for a special zoning classification for the area that is both the primary source for the booming metro area's water supply and the major draw for its recreation economy.

But members made no attempt to hide the fact that they left the hardest questions for the council, mayor and planning staff. The details are many, but the basic question is plain: How to balance the rights of private property owners with the rights — the needs — of the larger community.

The canyons are not a corner lot that may or may not damage a neighborhood if a bar or convenience store is permitted. They are the very economic and ecological core of our region. Regulations that are too tight can stifle economic activity. But rules that are too permissive will be the very definition of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

That is why county officials should make sure that they err, which is only human, in favor of preservation and environmental stewardship.

This will be more difficult as more people want to live in the canyons and mountains, in and near our globally popular ski resorts, and as those resorts look to be year-round attractions rather than seasonal destinations.

But it will be easier if those who operate the resorts become partners in preserving the appearance and integrity of the land that makes their enterprises possible. Easier if public and private interests work together to, as the committee suggests, swap land and limit development so that human activity is held to manageable clusters and more of the land is left in its natural, often breathtakingly beautiful, state.

A separate transportation plan, necessary to keep the ski areas from becoming a constant snarl of polluting vehicles, is another complicate part of the mix.

Doing this wrong has the potential to do serious damage, not just to the holdings of a few owners, but to every single person who now lives, or may someday live, along the booming Wasatch Front.

County must protect the canyons
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