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Proposed Snowbird snow coaster site visit planned Thursday

Published: Wednesday, May 9 2012 11:36 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort is back before the Salt Lake County Planning Commission with a new proposal for a "mountain coaster" near its Peruvian Lift.

The initial proposal envisioned building a mountain coaster on the lower face of Mount Superior in Little Cottonwood Canyon, which at one point would have crossed the canyon road on a bridge over state Route 210.

Amid controversy over the project in the environmentally sensitive canyon and a Board of Adjustment decision to overturn the Planning Commission's decision to grant ordinance waivers requested by Snowbird, the resort produced an amended plan to erect the coaster on the other side of the road.

Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, one of the early opponents of the coaster, said the new plan "is a much improved proposal from what it was initially."

"It's more of a tucked-away, out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of project," Fisher said.

Still, Fisher said, the Salt Lake County Council had to amend the Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone ordinance "to even get it to this point of (Snowbird) proposing it again."

Fisher, who has met privately with Snowbird officials, said he would not be taking part in Thursday's site visit.

The ski industry has said the FCOZ ordinance did not adequately address the needs of resorts as four-season operations. Changes to the ordinances were adopted by the Salt Lake County Council in March.

The Salt Lake County Planning Commission will conduct a field trip to the proposed site at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. While the trip is advertised as a public meeting, it is not a public hearing.

Snowbird will not offer a presentation, nor will the commission accept public comment. According to the rules of conduct established for the meeting, county planners are to limit their conversations to facts about the site, the application and ordinance requirements.

Rolen Yoshinaga, Salt Lake County's director of planning and development, said the planning commission occasionally conducts site visits.

"We don't do it real often," Yoshinga said. "On a large project, there's a tendency to want to know how it all fits in."

In the case of the snow coaster, the planning commission wants to understand what the coaster would look like on a slope, he said.

While the initial proposal was controversial, the new plan is tucked away by the Cliff Lodge, Yoshinga said. "From some parts of the road you can't even see it."

Snow or Alpine coasters run on elevated tracks that wind through loops and curves. Park City Mountain Resort's Alpine Coaster boasts speeds up to 30 mph, according to the resort's website.

The Planning Commission will address the request for a conditional use permit at a public hearing scheduled at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

While the new plan is an improvement from the first, Fisher said questions remain whether a snow coaster is consistent with the Wasatch Canyons Master Plan and at least one Salt Lake Valley Health Department ordinance on stream setbacks.

Canyons advocate Allen Sanderson said Snowbird's new proposal suggests that the resort took to heart the public outcry about the initial plan.

The snow coaster would traverse private property under the jurisdiction of county planning processes that is "more within their development footprint," Sanderson said.

"My fight is not with Snowbird, it's with the county," said Sanderson, referring to recent changes to the FCOZ ordinance.

"The county has given ski resorts carte blanche to do whatever they want. It's more restrictive for a property owner than a ski resort. Yet, ski resorts have a much higher impact than homes up there," he said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon is in the process of assembling a "blue-ribbon commission" to fully update the FCOZ ordinance.

e-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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