A four-hour hearing showed sharp divisions over whether West Yellowstone should welcome a proposed multimillion-dollar Grizzly Park development.
Grizzly Park would be a recreation complex centered around a grizzly bear sanctuary where tourists could view problem bears removed from Yellowstone. It also would hold a large-screen IMAX theater, resort hotel, several restaurants, shops and post office in the development's first phase.Gallatin County commissioners sat through a heated hearing Tuesday on whether to give preliminary approval to Lewis Robinson's proposed development on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. A decision is expected March 22.
The West Yellowstone Town Council is also deciding whether to annex 87 acres of land in the proposed park.
If the town annexes the land, it would receive a 3 percent resort tax on sales by the development's businesses. Robinson has estimated Grizzly Park could bring in $515,000 a year in resort taxes, but that figure is questioned by opponents.
The Town Council, in a letter presented to commissioners, said evidence proving a need for a large new development has not been provided by Robinson. The town's motels aren't filled several months of the year, several people said.
West Yellowstone isn't large enough to provide adequate services for Robinson's development, Councilman Steve Daniels told the commissioners. Most town residents don't favor extending city water and sewer services to the addition, Daniels said.
Many townspeople said they agreed.
One businessman, Clyde Seely, called West Yellowstone a "little two-season town" that can't afford to supply additional services for the development.
Another businessman, Art Crane, said that when developers "build too much, too fast, they create their own financial problems" and transfer them to others.
But others said the town should welcome the new development.
"This is a resort community, not Sun City," said former West Yellowstone Mayor Cal Dunbar. Grizzly Park is a "unique, well-financed" development, he said.
Donald Stanley of West Yellowstone called the proposal "one of the best things to come along since new streets." The town financed paving its streets with money from its resort tax, levied since 1986.
Yellowstone Park officials are less then enthused by the proposed development. Park resource specialist Stu Coleman said park officials fear wild grizzlies could be attracted to Grizzly Park by the odor of the grizzlies there.
Park officials also are concerned that Grizzly Park could create a traffic jam at the park's western entrance.