The Mine climbing gym wants permission to build a 15-meter, Olympic-sized climbing wall
Sport climbing is coming to the Olympics for the first time in 2020, a high-water mark for a sport that is a favorite outdoor pursuit for many athletes in and around Park City.
When the weather turns freezing and the snow flies, climbers often head indoors to sharpen their skills and get a workout, and many in the area found a home at The Mine Bouldering Gym in Kimball Junction.
That gym closed in May and its owners are looking to expand at a new location in the Park City Business Park off Old Hwy. 40 north of the intersection with S.R. 248.
They have the necessary approvals from Summit County to build in that location, but owner Andy Jacobsen said in order to offer a world-class, full-service climbing gym, they want to install a nearly 50-foot speed climbing wall like the one that will be used in the Olympics. The problem is, the height limit on buildings in that zone is 32 feet.
The Mine Bouldering Gym is applying for a special exception to the Snyderville Basin development code to allow it to build up to 48 feet in the areas above the climbing walls. The request was slated to be heard by the County Council during a public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 11, at approximately 6 p.m. It did not go to the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, and staff has recommended the elected officials deny the application.
Summit County planner Sean Lewis wrote the staff report about the proposal that recommended denial. He said in an interview that his job is almost always to recommend against projects in these situations because he has to represent the development code as written, not find exceptions to it.
“That’s why (the) special exception (process) is there,” Lewis said. “It requires the blessing or yes from those who write the law — meaning the County Council — to give an exception from the law they wrote.”
Don Sargent, a former Summit County community development director who is representing the climbing gym, said the project meets the intent of the code and the general plan.
“Not the letter of the law, per se, but the spirit of the law,” he said.
The future home of the gym, 4315 N. Forestdale Drive in the Park City Business Park, is in a service commercial zone, which allows for heights up to 90 feet if an applicant applies for a conditional use permit for heavy manufacturing uses, like for smokestacks or storage tanks. What the gym envisions building does not fall into that category of uses.
The buildings sit “quite a bit lower” than Old Hwy. 40, Lewis said, and most people wouldn’t notice the extra 16 feet because of the elevation and the design of the building.
“From staff’s perspective — there’s not a health, safety or wellness issue,” Lewis said. “If they want another 16 feet, nothing’s going to be harmed from granting other 16 feet.”
The County Council will have to weigh, however, whether opening the door to this exception means others in the area will apply for height exceptions as well.
The staff report finds that “there are no equitable claims or unique circumstances warranting the special exception.”
Jacobsen, the owner of the climbing gym, is hoping the circumstance of trying to provide an Olympic-quality facility will be enough to sway the Council.
The climbing at the Tokyo Games will feature three disciplines: lead climbing, bouldering and speed climbing. Lead climbing is done on challenging, often over-hanging terrain and uses a rope system to belay the climber. Bouldering is done closer to the ground with more technical “problems” for climbers to solve. Speed climbing, the discipline for which the gym is hoping to provide a training facility, uses a standardized 15-meter wall that climbers race up. The world record is 5.48 seconds.
“No matter where you compete in speed climbing, it’s the same wall, same angle, the same holds in the exact same places,” Jacobsen said. That allows for climbers to set world records and to regulate competition worldwide.
The closest facilities with speed-climbing walls are in Salt Lake City, Jacobsen said.
The gym would only extend the height above where the taller courses would be in the middle of the building, Jacobsen said, estimating it at about one-third the total area. The 15-meter wall would be slightly taller than the 48 feet the gym is requesting, but he explained they’d get around that by removing a couple feet of padding on the floor when the speed-climbing wall is in use.
Jacobsen said the project isn’t a “no-brainer” financially, and that they’d always had a vision of starting a rope-climbing gym since The Mine opened in 2013. The previous location only offered bouldering, but when they hit some membership and revenue milestones a couple years ago, Jacobsen said they became convinced the community could sustain a full-service rock climbing gym.
“Every single youth climber who competes competitively has a dream of competing in the Olympics,” Jacobsen said. “By not offering a speed climbing wall, we’d be selling all those kids short.”
He said he’d hoped to have broken ground by now, but the goal is to open the facility by the end of next summer.
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