Developer Terry Diehl struck out Tuesday in his effort to turn his Tavaci Development at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon into a larger, denser project.
After more than three hours of testimony from two dozen speakers, the Salt Lake County Council voted 4-3 to reject Diehl's request to change the zoning on the property, perched on a bluff at the northwest entrance to the canyon, from single family residential to a mixture of residential and commercial with buildings perhaps 100 feet tall.
"I've sat through a lot of these public hearings," said longtime Democratic County Council member Jim Bradley, who made the motion to support an earlier Planning Commission recommendation to deny the zoning request. "I can't remember one where the people said so unanimously, 'It's a bad idea. Don't do it.'"
Virtually every speaker panned the proposal, even after Diehl spokesman Bruce Baird said the developer would comply with whatever restrictive conditions the county wanted to place on the property, as long as the rezoning was granted so he could pursue the kind of project warranted by the economy.
He claimed a rezoned project, which could allow for a hotel and restaurants as well as condominiums and some single family homes, would generate $1.5 million annually in county taxes. By contrast, only $195,000-a-year in property taxes would come from the 43 mansion-sized homes that could be built under existing zoning.
Baird's concessions struck a responsive chord with council members Randy Horiuchi, Max Burdick and Michael Jensen. All three supported a failed substitute motion that would have tabled the rezoning request to allow Mayor Ben McAdams to negotiate a "development agreement" with Diehl that imposed limits on building height and residential density and addressed other concerns that were raised.
But the other four council members participating in the hearing sided with rezoning opponents, whose ranks included the mayor of Cottonwood Heights, the acting mayor of Holladay, three County Planning Commission members, representatives of conservation and recreation groups, and residents of Big Cottonwood Canyon and communities near the canyon base.
The comments of Holladay resident Karen McCoy seemed to resonate most with the council majority. She said the county's foremost responsibility was to serve as good stewards of the land to protect it for future generations.
"I moved to this valley because of those beautiful mountains. I don't own them. They are our gift for living in this valley, and they belong to my children, your grandchildren," McCoy said, noting that she felt it was important to show her descendants that "the Holy Grail of development at any cost was not my value."
McCoy added: "I take this stewardship [responsibility] seriously. You don't get to redo these mountains, to redo these canyons. We are obligated to say, 'Stop. Development at any cost, no.' "
Responded Republican Councilman Richard Snelgrove, who joined Democrats Jim Bradley, Sam Granato and Arlyn Bradshaw in rejecting the rezoning request: ''Ms. McCoy spoke on behalf of the people who will inherit this valley the children and grandchildren we must figure into our decision making. I'm sure future generations will echo that gratitude" if the rezoning is denied.
After the vote, Baird said it was too early to tell whether Diehl will appeal the council's decision to 3rd District Court.
"We haven't developed a 'Plan B,' " he said, adding he believed his arguments had resolved existing issues and would pass muster with the council.
Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, said he was pleased by the council's decision but pledged to remain vigilant in case the project is revived.
• Opposed to rezoning for the Tavaci Development at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon: Jim Bradley (D), Arlyn Bradshaw (D), Sam Granato (D), Richard Snelgrove (R).
• Favoring rezoning: Max Burdick (R), Randy Horiuchi (D), Michael Jensen (R).
• Council chairman Steve DeBry (R) recused himself from the discussion after earlier sending a letter to Cottonwood Heights expressing opposition to a denser development.
• Councilman David Wilde (R) was absent.