Residents, developers pack public hearing; lawsuits to be stayed regarding proposed Powder Mountain Town

Jun 2 2010 - 8:52am


(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) Ogden Valley residents react to statements made by Powder Mountain Town developers during a Weber County Commission public hearing about a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner) Ogden Valley residents react to statements made by Powder Mountain Town developers during a Weber County Commission public hearing about a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday.

OGDEN -- The Weber County Commission and Powder Mountain town petitioners began the process of creating a development agreement at the resort with a unanimous approval of a memorandum of understanding Tuesday night.

The residents and representatives of the developers who overflowed commission chambers expressed a variety of opinions about the fate of the proposed town and the potential agreement between commissioners and the developers, Western American Holdings, during the three-hour public hearing.

Most who spoke asked the commissioners to either table the memorandum to work more at a compromise or to hold WAH to the development rights that existed when the land was purchased.

Several supported the MOU as a step toward resolving the conflict between residents and developers and the best agreement that will be reached.

Ultimately, no party is going to be completely happy with the solution, said Joseph Pierce, partner with WAH management company Pronaia Capital Partners.

"I think when you resolve any set of differences people have between and among them, I think it's typically best if everybody is a little bit unhappy," he said.

Pierce said the MOU is a compromise that would allow the resort to be viable without overloading the valley.

Commissioner Craig Dearden, the commission member who has worked most with the issue, said the agreement is the result of a pragmatic look at possible outcomes of the litigation and potential incorporation.

He said he understands concerns residents have about density, road safety and availability of resources, but those problems would still be there if a town were created, and then the county would lose any say in the process.

Legislation to address the incorporation and litigation is unlikely to be passed or resolved in favor of the residents or the county, he said.

Now that the MOU is approved, both the county and WAH will put a stay on their lawsuits and work toward a development agreement, said Dave Wilson, deputy county attorney.

Once the development agreement is created, a process of many months, and if it is approved, the lawsuits will be dropped and WAH will withdraw the petition for incorporation.

The issues attracting the most comments were town incorporation, road safety and zoning fairness.

Several residents asked Pronaia representatives to drop the incorporation as a show of good faith and come back to negotiate with a less-skeptical valley.

"I will forever resent it (the incorporation petition), and you will create an irreparable chasm across the valley," said Drew Johnson, an Eden resident within the proposed town's boundaries. "Go back. Please talk to the investors and tell them to drop incorporation. I am willing to give you a clean slate if you drop the town."

Those who supported the MOU said it wasn't perfect, but it keeps control over the land and zoning decisions with the county.

Bill Dowell, a potential town resident, said the agreement is going to be more advantageous to keeping valley density low than any town would be.

Al Sheridan, of Huntsville, said he doesn't think he will see the asked-for density -- 2,800 development units -- in his great-grandchildren's lifetimes because the market and infrastructure won't support it.

Ogden Valley Planning Commissioner Kevin Parson said the density needs to be market-driven, not granted.

He said the resort zone gives WAH the ability to purchase rights on the mountain by purchasing open space, and if the market didn't support that, they shouldn't be given development rights.

Pierce said Pronaia said they did not want to go through the process for transfer of development rights because land in that process often becomes unworkably expensive, making the project unfeasible.

Pierce also agreed that a wildlife buffer zone would be addressed in the development agreement. Protection of public lands was an issue the Sierra Club had asked for.

Commissioner Jan Zogmaister said residents will have to have faith the commissioners will continue to work in their interest and hammer out the details of many of their concerns in the development agreement.

Steve Waldrip, of Eden, asked the county to make the MOU not binding until details are hammered out in the development agreement.

Without making the MOU binding, Pierce said, it would be hard to stick to it, whichever party won in court, and they might lose the attempt at compromise.

Gregg Greer, Powder Mountain president and CEO, said he knows many of his neighbors are unhappy and he doesn't want to see the valley turn into Park City, but Pronaia has been much more willing to listen to residents and find a middle ground.

"The previous owners would say, 'Get as much density as possible' -- 6,000, 8,000, 10,000 -- numbers were tossed around," Greer said, adding he did not agree, but because of his job could not say anything.

"It's the current developers who have come in, have sat down and listened, and as they listened, they made changes."

The MOU will help Powder Mountain become the resort it can be and make necessary changes, he said.

"We have billion-dollar terrain and snow and one-dollar lodges. I would like to bring that more into balance," he said.

Zogmaister said safeguards against unsupportable development will be built into the development agreement and a lot of work is ahead.

"I still have concerns about it, but I also have confidence in the ability to negotiate some of these things."

This topic is being discussed at The Weber County Forum.

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