A small mountainside community in Emigration Canyon is fighting a commercial development proposal from one of its own neighbors that they worry would exacerbate traffic, environmental damage and fire danger near their homes.
John Walsh, an attorney who owns more than 58 acres of land at the top of Pinecrest Canyon Road, wants to create a gazebo for weddings and parties, two single-lane shooting ranges, a zip line and a winter sledding hill on about 12 acres of his property.
But during an emotional, three-hour long meeting Thursday of the Emigration Canyon Planning Commission, the more than 20 residents who spoke on Walsh’s proposal during a public hearing urged commissioners to “pump the brakes” on the project.
“This project proposal seems like really the wrong place to do this,” said David Ream, an Emigration Canyon resident. “There’s so many hazards and issues because of this proposal that it seems to me it’s just an incompatible use for this particular spot in Emigration Canyon.”
RESIDENTS' CONCERNS WITH PROPOSED PINECREST CANYON ROAD DEVELOPMENT
• Increased fire danger from stray bullets at the shooting range in the dry mountain brush and that lead from the bullets could contaminate groundwater.
• The possibility that a stray bullet at the shooting range could hit hikers who frequent the public lands nearby.
• Noise pollution from the shooting range and from any large events on the property could negatively impact natural wildlife in the area.
• The property has enough parking for at least 48 vehicles, which residents worry will bring at least that many cars and possibly more that are illegally parked.
• Pinecrest Canyon Road is not paved to a full two-way street width, which could prevent emergency vehicles from assisting at the property in the event of a fire.
• Widening the road would require condemnation of other residents’ property.
• Increased water usage in a canyon where the stream went dry for most of its run through the historic canyon earlier this summer.
• Lack of transparency about the particulars of the project with Emigration Canyon residents.
Among their myriad concerns, residents also said they were angry they hadn’t heard about the plan — which Walsh said has been pending since December 2017 — until earlier this week. They implored commissioners for more transparency but appeared able to mobilize quickly enough for Thursday’s meeting.
“In the last 48 hours, it’s become apparent to me that word travels pretty quickly in Emigration Canyon,” said Curtis Woodward, a member of the Salt Lake County planning staff.
And residents showed no signs of backing down. Toward the end of the meeting, one man went so far as to raise his hand from the audience and ask the commissioners, “If we wanted to shut this project down, where should we focus our efforts?”
“That’s a question that we are not in a position to answer,” one responded. “That’s something you would need to consult somebody else on.”
After hearing from the public and from Walsh, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to take more time to consider the project before making a decision. The commissioners voted to hold their Dec. 13 meeting at Walsh’s property instead of the Salt Lake County Government Center in an effort to learn more about his proposal and to come back together at their January 2019 meeting to determine how to move forward.
The uses Walsh is proposing on the property would not require a rezone of the area, according to Woodward, who said the proposal should be approved “if reasonable conditions are proposed, or can be imposed, to mitigate the reasonably anticipated detrimental effects of the proposed use.”
Walsh expressed a willingness to work with planners and the commission to reduce such impacts, noting that “the safety of all that come and go and those that reside is paramount as well as fire safety."
He’s proposing the shooting ranges employ technology that would capture bullets and store them in water to mitigate fire danger — a concern residents expressed again and again. And he says that for events with more than 25 guests, he would employ a bus to drive people up and down the canyon in an effort to reduce traffic.
In his application, Walsh said his intention for the property is that it would primarily be used by family and friends — but also, “as occasion arises” for small groups that want to use the property.
But even after hearing his plans, residents said they’re not buying Walsh’s statements. And they worry that, if approved, the proposed development would become poised to create a resort in their neighborhood.
“To call this simply a zip-line and a shooting range would be to call a Ferrari five wheels and a piece of metal,” said Mark Tracy, who works with the Emigration Canyon Homeowners Association. “That’s not what it is.”