COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — A private developer plans to build two hotels and about 2 dozen luxury homes at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The plan conforms to Cottonwood Heights' long-term goals, but some residents are riled over a requested zoning change that would classify the property as mixed-use rather than commercial.

The change would allow for hotels and housing — not currently allowed — but would rule out things like big-box establishments and liquor stores.

If built, the hotels would be the first in the newly incorporated east-side city, though many properties in the area are rented on a short-term basis to skiers.

Hotels are needed in the area for winter sports visitors and a growing business community, said Gary Harrison, a partner in the development.

"It's a good plan and it's a good use of the property," he said.

Wasatch Gates LLC purchased the 11 acres in question from Snowbird Resorts in May 2006.

A pool and tennis courts that were built there in 1973 have been demolished. The vacant, dusty property is surrounded by temporary green fencing. Private homes, a condominium complex and a gas station neighbor the land at the corner of Wasatch and Fort Union boulevards.

The Cottonwood Heights Planning Commission held a public hearing Wednesday on the zoning issue. Concerned residents filled the chambers, addressing issues such as traffic, neighborhood history and community use of the property.

Most residents said they were against hotels, but a few others voiced support for the concept. Almost all who addressed the commission were rebuffed by public officials who insisted the zone change didn't concern either hotels or traffic.

The decision is about two "universes of possibilities," they said. And choosing the mixed-use option gives the city more control.

However, the less-intensive zoning will bring in less tax revenue. It will also be less lucrative for Wasatch Gates, but the developer thinks hotels and homes will be better for the community than retail would be, Harrison said.

Just before the public hearing during a work session, commissioners voiced support for the project, saying Wasatch Gates was a good developer.

The development straddles a series of faults, so the city can use its sensitive lands ordinance to force things such as height restrictions. The area is also in a special district that requires approval by the architecture review committee.

Preliminary plans submitted by the developer show a pair of two-story hotels, each with about 200 rooms. They also show 25 single homes that will cost upwards of $1 million. Condominiums had been considered but have been ruled out due to density concerns, Harrison said.

Public comment on the zone change will be allowed until Aug. 6, when the Planning Commission will again hear the issue. The commission will then make a recommendation to the City Council, which has final say. The council will hold another public hearing.

If the zoning is ultimately changed, the development will need site plan approvals plus traffic and geological studies. Construction could begin as early as summer of 2009, Cottonwood Heights planners predicted.

If his hand is forced, Harrison will put retail on the property, he said. But so far he's sold on the hotels and houses.

"We'll make it very attractive," he said. "It's a great piece of property and it's a boon to the town."

Information on zoning and the city master plan can be found at cottonwoodheights.utah.gov.


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