For a second time, the Salt Lake County Planning Commission has approved Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort’s application to build a mountain coaster on its land in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
This time, the coaster’s approved alignment is close to the existing Peruvian Express chairlift, a much more appealing location to opponents than the initially proposed route down the lower face of Mount Superior and over the canyon road to Snowbird’s base.
Before Salt Lake County issues a building permit for Snowbird’s mountain coaster, the Salt Lake Valley Health Department will have to sign off on the project, based on its compliance with Salt Lake City’s watershed-protection standards.
On Tuesday, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon is expected to seek County Council consent on a list of 15 people to serve on a blue-ribbon commission to oversee a revision of the Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone ordinance. About 50 people applied.
"We are excited to provide another form of summer recreation for our guests and Utah’s growing population," said Snowbird President Bob Bonar. "We feel [Wednesday’s] approval is a result of listening to various stakeholders, community groups and neighbors as well as working with Salt Lake County and City to create a workable solution for all parties."
Even so, Save Our Canyons is considering whether to appeal the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to the county’s Board of Adjustment.
The last time the conservation group did that, the board overturned the commission’s approval of the initial route, Snowbird agreed to move the coaster over the road to its already-developed terrain, and county officials were compelled to launch a still-unfolding campaign to modernize the Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone (FCOZ) ordinance.
"We credit ourselves for that," Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher said Thursday. "That’s the purpose of these public processes — to find better alternatives for these types of uses."
While he likes the new alignment much better than the first, Fisher remains convinced the Planning Commission is wrong in deciding a coaster is consistent with the Wasatch Canyons Master Plan.
He criticized the Planning Commission for endorsing Snowbird’s requests for FCOZ waivers that would allow the coaster to be built on 30- to 50-degree slopes and to come within 100 feet of Little Cottonwood Creek.
The Planning Commission had accepted Snowbird’s explanations that installation of the mountain coaster’s support structure would be done by hand, minimizing the amount of disturbance to the land and sediment deposition into the stream.
Planners also made their approval contingent upon the engineering and design standards passing muster with the watershed-protection requirements of Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Utilities.
Laura Briefer, Salt Lake City’s water resources manager, said her agency would do a technical review of Snowbird’s final designs to ensure they avoid watershed damage. That process usually takes a couple of weeks, which still would allow the resort to build the coaster this summer.
She praised Snowbird for moving the coaster off Mount Superior and "into the footprint of the resort, rather than expanding that footprint."
But "we continue to be concerned about incremental and cumulative impacts to our watershed from piecemeal development," Briefer added, "and what that does to the natural function of the watershed."
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