Sunday, January 20, 2008

Worth Watching? Utah's Powder Mountain Ski Resort Wants To Incorporate As A Town, And There's Opposition

Powder Mountain

We have another ski-resort-to-incorporated-town story that's starting to grow some legs. Apparently the egregiously predatory and abusive behavior of Dean Sellers, who wants to transform a chunk of the Wasatch Valley into a "world class" ski resort, and whose antics have been documented in this series of posts, has made a number of Utahns skittish about any other developmental plans in the canyons and on the lee side of the Wasatch Front. And the Weber County Forum blog seems to be taking the lead in questioning the latest developmental proposal. The Ogden Valley blog has also weighed in.

And the latest developmental proposal has been put forth by the owners of the Powder Mountain Ski Resort. Frustrated with delays in securing permission for a 4,400-acre rezoning, they have filed a petition with Weber County to incorporate as a new town. Media stories published by the Salt Lake Tribune HERE and HERE. Another outlet, KSL Channel 5, posted a brief story.

Map To Powder Mountain

Scott Doughman, one of the owners, said in a news release that the law allowing incorporation, based upon the controversial Utah HB466, ensures the resort's property rights are fairly represented in local government. However, HB466 has been criticized for making it too easy for developers to incorporate as small towns over the objections of local residents and with very limited redress; a good narrative explaining the problems is posted HERE. Fortunately, District 28 State Senator Dennis Stowell (R-Parowan) has taken the lead in modifying HB466; his proposals are presented HERE. His resultant draft bill incorporating these changes was unanimously passed by the Political Subdivisions Interim Committee as a committee bill, designated as SB25, and will be given priority for consideration during the 2008 legislative session.

In December 2007, the resort obtained the endorsement for the rezoning from the Ogden Valley Township Planning Commission, but there were many strings attached. The Planning Commission, for instance, wants the owner to essentially build a second road into the resort. The Weber County Commission, which has ultimate jurisdiction, had expected to take up the proposed rezoning this spring.

However, shortly thereafter, the Huntsville Planning Commission, which has no jurisdiction, passed a resolution opposing the development. But the Weber County Commission is expected to take Huntsville's resolution into consideration in formulating their final decision.

The sheer size of the proposed project warrants serious attention. Powder Mountain's new owners want to transform the resort that straddles the Weber and Cache county line with 18 new ski lifts; 2,700 houses, condos and town houses; 385 motel rooms; corporate retreats, lodges, retail shops and restaurants; and golf courses. This will impose an increased infrastructural and demographic burden upon the area. Traffic will escalate. And if the lower-wage service workers who will operate the businesses cannot afford to live in the new town, where will they come from? Ogden? Logan? Daily commuting will also impact air quality in the area. The real question: Will the expected financial benefits to the area and, to a lesser degree, the state override the deterioration in the quality of life now enjoyed by current residents?

The question of affordability is further addressed in a Wall Street Journal article entitled "The New American Gentry", published on January 2008. The WSJ explores a growing phenomenom known as "rural gentrification". In summary, affluent retirees and other high-income types have descended upon remote areas, creating new demand for amenities like interior-design stores, spas and organic markets. For many communities, it's the biggest change since the interstate highway system came barreling through in the 1960s and 1970s. And millions of soon-to-retire baby boomers, say demographers, will propel this trend for years to come.

"What we're seeing is a class colonization," says Peter Nelson, an associate professor of geography at Middlebury College and an expert on rural migration. "It really represents a shift in the nature of the economy from a resource-extraction economy to an aesthetic-based economy." But such change can create social tensions, as longtime residents are either driven away because they can no longer afford housing or are forced to adapt to new careers. Rural gentrification has already made housing unaffordable to ordinary people in many Colorado ski towns, most notably Aspen.

Perhaps the reason the Powder Mountain scheme has not generated as much of a passionate response (at least outside the Ogden Valley area) as the Aspen proposal in the Wasatch Valley is that there is no tinhorn feudal baron wannabe like Dean Sellers rampaging about helter-skelter, threatening to put residents out of their homes if they don't support him, threatening to sue the local community of Daniel if they don't give him what he wants, and actually suing the water supplier of Daniel for alleged "trespassing". However, just because the corporate owners of Powder Mountain are more sophisticated doesn't mean their intentions are less worthy of public scrutiny. They need to be watched, and Ogden Valley residents will find it helpful to continue taking the lead in keeping this in the public eye.


Valley said...


Thanks for the excellent post Deseret, and while the Powder Mountain developers may not be "tinhorn feudal baron wannabe's," they are fairly close.

They did threaten to sue Cache County Attorney Daines because he "offended" them with questions of their financial abilities.

And they are every bit as arrogant at Dean-o Sellers - and pompous too!

Deseret Dawg said...

Glad to help. I initially hadn't taken much notice of this, but when I saw what was posted on wcforum, it looks like a much more significant potential problem than the mainstream media is advertising.

I remember the Salt Lake Valley in the 60s and 70s - greenbelt in between every community. Riverton truly was out in the country back then. Not any more! And now it's spreading to the mountain communities themselves.

frankc said...

The really insidious part of 466 is its ability to suck people in involuntarily by simply listing their names, then leaving them no way, effectively, to opt out. If the opt-out provisions were liberalized, that would be a start. 466 is a badly-written, ill-conceived piece of legislation that needs immediate revision or repeal, with NO relief for the rapacious developers who are trying to take advantage of its stupid provisions to the detriment of landowners. It is a perverse, converse twist on what happened in Israel/Palestine, and we all know what THAT led to.

Deseret Dawg said...

Frank - you raise an interesting point about Israel. The wall the Israelis built was presumably intended to better control entry into Israel from the east, but it was built in such a way that some Palestinian villages in the West Bank are completely walled off. This makes them effectively prisoners in their own village.

The proposed incorporation of Powder Mountain could put the interests of outsiders ahead of the interest of locals, and even at the expense of local interests. This explains why the Wall Street Journal article uses the term "colonization". It fits.

Get your local lawmakers to support Utah SB25, which will correct the problems of HB466.