Only the small town of Springdale has the right to decide whether a big-screen theater and hotel should be built at the entrance of Zion National Park, according to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.
"It is disappointing to see that a handful of congressmen and out-of-state extreme environmental organizations are attempting to interject and impose their personal wills upon the people of Springdale in what is strictly a local zoning decision," Hansen said Tuesday.Hansen told the Deseret News that Springdale has scheduled a hearing on the proposed theater and hotel project for March 7.
"As long as the development does not violate any existing laws or regulations," Hansen added, "the city of Springdale must have the unfettered ability to determine for itself whether or not it wishes to facilitate such a development and, if so, where it desires that project to be constructed within its borders."
His comments come after Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, started rounding up signatures from Democrats on the House Interior Committee warning theater developers to move their theater farther away from the park or face their wrath.
Also earlier this month, 20 environmental groups asked the federal government to buy the 12 acres of private land where the big-screen "IMAX-like" theater, an 80-room hotel and a 275-space parking lot is proposed - but at a low price. Land owners said they aren't interested and are committed to the theater project.
"Those who should have the greatest and final say whether to allow the theater/hotel complex to be built are the people of Springdale through their locally elected officials," Hansen said. "I will support their decision, whatever it may be."
Hansen, whose district includes the park, added, "Having served as a member of a city council (in Farmington) for 12 years, I have great respect for the ability of local elected officials to make decisions that are in the best interest of their community and surroundings."
However, the situation is attracting national attention - with a front-page story in the New York Times last week and action by the congressmen led by Owens and environmental groups. Also, a National Park Service spokesmen said Tuesday that top national officials are now reviewing the situation.
Kieth Merrill - the production manager for World Odyssey, who is a native Utahn and an Oscar-winning director - has said the project would be environmentally sensitive and that a giant-screen movie about Zion would add to visitors' enjoyment.
The site is at the entrance to the park and within sight of the park's Watchman Campground.