Ogden Valley Manifesto 2.0: A warning regarding over-the-top unsustainable development schemes
By Kimbal Wheatley
Dear Neighbors in Ogden Valley,
Thirty years ago I bought property in Ogden Valley and have lived on the South Fork for a couple of decades. I served as chair of our South Fork Township Planning Commission during the run up to the Olympics, and later as a “stakeholder” when the Recreation Element of our General Plan and the Snowbasin Master Plans were developed. These experiences taught me two things. First, growth and development in the Valley is inevitable; we have an attractive place and property rights exist that will triple or quadruple housing units and people in the fairly near future. Second, if we do this right, the Valley will remain an attractive place to live, visit, recreate and invest; everybody wins. But there are also lots of ways to mess this up—especially during a period of rapid development—and most everybody loses if we do.
For the last decade I have led the monthly GEM Committee discussions (Growth Excellence Mandate), a come-one, come-all group of Valley people who attend countless government and private meetings as Valley growth issues emerge. To the GEM folk, growing with excellence means doing what we can to minimize the impact development has on residents while also doing what we can to remain an attractive place to live and visit. We pursue following our General Plan, a roadmap for enhancing what makes the Valley great while minimizing the negative consequences of growth—haphazard development, bankruptcies and overloading our infrastructure. More importantly, our General Plan clearly says we don’t want to lose what we have that makes our Valley a great place to live, recreate, and invest. I don’t think it news to most that our Plan intends to preserve our rural feel of agriculture, open space, dark skies, clean air, and majestic views. And our Plan also intends to retain our appeal to destination recreation visitors, knowing fully that congestion, pollution, and free-for-all development will kill the goose that is now laying our golden eggs. Two simple sentences in the General Plan describe our vision for how we intend to walk this tightrope: “Land uses in Ogden Valley should complement, not overwhelm or compete with, the rural character of the Valley…” and “The Ogden Valley community desires responsible and sustainable growth while conserving the natural and social character of Ogden Valley.” The rest of the Plan provides guidance on how to ensure our vision remains the reality.
It seems like about every ten years a development scheme comes along that would overwhelm us. When previous owners of Powder Mountain proposed building a resort the size of Brigham City on top of the mountain, we fought for a better outcome. We succeeded because Valley residents got involved, learned the facts, and provided input at every opportunity. Back then I published a Manifesto, putting Powder Mountain developers on notice that we expect resort expansion plans to improve the Valley, not diminish it. Since then we have adopted a new General Plan that pretty much says the same thing. We also have improved ordinances and approval processes to support it. Even so, we need to rally and focus our community voice to get the best outcome we can when something like the Nordic Valley mega proposal comes along. This inspired me to develop an Ogden Valley Manifesto 2.0; thanks to everyone who helped in its development.
But first, please try to get your head around the magnitude and against-all-odds ideas of the Nordic expansion proposal that has now been submitted to the Forest Service for review and approval. The plan would leverage Nordic Valley from 140 acres on private land by developing facilities onto some 3,300 acres of roadless National Forest between Nordic Valley and North Ogden. The Nordic Valley Plans for Expansion describes…
1 – …expanding lift capacity from 1,030 to 11,380 guests. This would be more than the guests currently hosted by Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Nordic Valley combined, resulting in a doubling of current users; it would be a resort with roughly the same number of guests Park City/Canyons hosts today.
2 – …expanding parking on the Eden side from 404 vehicles to 3,845. This means an additional 7,700 vehicles a day in and out of the resort on our county roads; compare this to 8,500 vehicles now traversing Ogden Canyon on a weekend winter day.
3 – …expanding snowmaking from 11 million gallons on 31 acres to 223 million gallons on 450 acres. The idea is to pump water from Pineview and “consume” only 28% of what is pumped; the rest returns to Pineview as runoff. Still, consumption at 28% is 191 acre feet.
4 – …expanding from 5,093 to 166,500 square feet of non-housing buildings, expanding from 592 restaurant seating capacity to 12,000, and increasing electricity consumption from 1.5 megawatts to 15.5 megawatts.
5 –….cutting 20+ miles of roads into a roadless section of National Forest to service 13 new lifts and 708 acres of ski runs with snowmaking. Much of this would occur in an area identified in the General Plan as some of our “most visible viewshed.”
6 – …converting our most accessible roadless National Forest, currently managed with watershed priority, into one of Utah’s largest resorts, and certainly Utah’s largest low altitude resort (the highest point being at the level of Snowbird/Alta parking lots).
7 – …allowing a resort larger than Snowbasin without a plan for handling culinary water, water rights, wastewater, runoff water, landslide, snow slide, wildlife, watershed, traffic, or guest housing. Granted, much of this is outside of Forest Service scope, but all will be big deals to the Valley if the project goes forward.
If successful, the proposed expansion of Nordic Valley would about double the number of winter guests we now have across all our resorts on our very busiest days; they estimate about half would come from the Eden side. This project is so massive it could easily overwhelm Ogden Valley, especially when added to thousands more already expected when Snowbasin and Powder Mountain reach their already-approved capacity. With this in mind, we issue this manifesto as guidance to its developers.
Principle 1: Do no harm…the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
We expect any expansion of recreation resorts in Ogden Valley to proactively and effectively mitigate adverse impacts on Valley residents and environment. In order to understand and minimize impact, we expect full disclosure of expansion effects on Valley residents and natural assets; in particular, we expect a truthful and complete accounting of how expansion will impact water consumption, wastewater systems, runoff water and drainage, roads, and utilities, as well as landslide risk, snow slide risk, and risk to watersheds. We also expect honesty in how expansion will impact quality of life factors like noise, pollution, view sheds, animal habitat, housing, property values and taxes.
Principle 2: Be faithful to the General Plan…
We expect any expansion of recreation resorts in Ogden Valley to adhere to the vision, goals and principles of the Ogden Valley General Plan. One of our Plan goals supports the expansion of resorts: “…to pursue Valley recreation expansion by working with resort developers.” However, our plan also clearly states what we expect from recreation expansion. Here are a few: “…to reduce the overall amount and impact of future land development in Ogden Valley,” “…to protect the Valley’s sense of openness and rural character,” “…to protect key viewsheds throughout the Valley,” and “…to balance the expansion of recreation areas and facilities with overused and saturated resources to maintain a high-quality recreation experience” (that is, there will be less golden eggs in a congested place).
Principle 3: Play by the rules…
We expect any expansion of recreation resorts to adhere to Weber County planning rules and processes, and any expansion into our National Forest to adhere to Forest Service rules and processes. We expect a fair and thorough execution of the review and approval process without political intervention.
Principle 4: We demand full transparency…
We expect any public investment in expansion of recreation resorts (such as county-backed bonding or Community Development Agencies) to be minimal and to be highly visible to taxpayers, and with fully accounted costs to the public, including externalized costs or subsidies.
Principle 5: Show us the numbers…
Prior to final approval, we expect any expansion of recreation resorts to provide the public with evidence that it is fiscally sound and will result in a quality product that can compete in the national and international recreation markets for the long haul.
These principles reflect our rights as residents and citizens and are backed by federal, state and county law, not to mention common sense. We have a right to follow our General Plan and to enjoy the fruits of the property rights it describes. We have a right to fight for these rights.
Adopting these principles will earn support from Valley residents; ignoring them or strong-arming will create decades of Valley animosity and resistance at every turn. I, for one, prefer the former option.