Tom Clyde: The biggest Wasatch Back development snafu that no one is talking about
How does a 1960s A-frame lodge on Forest Service land turn into a mega-development covering 8 square miles in Wasatch County? That’s an interesting story, and the answer is that we don’t exactly know. Leslie Thatcher at KPCW is the only person covering this, and I’m glad she is on it.
Back before the Olympics, the owner of Snowbasin convinced Congress that, to host the downhill races, he needed to trade some scattered lands he owned with the Forest Service for a chunk of flat, developable land the Forest Service owned adjacent to the resort. The deal had been in the works for years, and was mired down in a tortuous Forest Service decision-making processes. So he did the only reasonable thing, and got Congress to authorize the trade without any of that messy appraisal or environmental review.
The glitch in the deal was that Hill Air Force Base had a run-down little cabin on the Forest Service land. It slept maybe a dozen people, but provided military personnel an opportunity for affordable recreation at Snowbasin. So as part of the trade, the R&R lodge was supposed to be replaced with something bigger and better. The bug became a feature, and people decided it was a good idea if it helped our service members.
Enter the Military Installations Development Authority. MIDA is a strange governmental entity that isn’t quite a city but is more than a service district. It was created by the Legislature to facilitate the construction of warehouses, industrial buildings, and office space around Hill Field. It’s a state agency so it’s exempt from local zoning regulations. It’s almost a town, but without inconvenient stuff like elections. MIDA would help build the replacement military lodge. They settled on a parcel of BLM land along S.R. 248, and proposed a huge hotel at Park City’s worst traffic choke point. Some of it was for the military use, but mostly it was a big commercial hotel.
The City objected to the location, and after several years, MIDA retreated to 40 acres in Wasatch County along U.S. 40. Years passed. Airmen enlisting the day the Snowbasin lodge was torn down are now retirement age, and there still is no hotel.
Somehow, the developer of the Mayflower property has been able to expand MIDA from the already ample 40-acre parcel to cover about 8 square miles. That’s a lot of R&R hotel rooms for the military. It wraps around Jordanelle from the Mayflower land, south of the freeway exit, all the way around the north end of the reservoir to meet S.R. 248 at Hideout. The access road is under construction there now.
So what does it mean that MIDA has jurisdiction there? Basically, Wasatch County got mugged (though somewhere along the line they had to approve it). The housing and ski resort development that Wasatch County has been master planning for about 40 years will plow ahead. Only Wasatch County doesn’t have zoning authority over it. The development will be overseen by MIDA as the zoning authority. Who better to do the planning for a luxury ski resort than an agency that builds warehouses next to runways? MIDA could follow the Wasatch County master plans in the area. Or not.
I had lots of questions. Does MIDA have an employee housing requirement in their code? Who will pick up the trash, put out the fires, and plow the snow? Does MIDA have police officers who will break up bar fights from their office in Kaysville? Who do I talk to about getting a building permit to build within the MIDA district?
If MIDA has a development code, it’s not discoverable on Google. It took me over an hour to figure out who the governing board is. The development of 8 square miles around Jordanelle will be overseen by state Senator Stewart Adams, some guy appointed by the State House of Representatives, a state employee “involved with military issues,” a citizen who is “supporting military efforts in the state,” and the mayors of Bluffdale, Clearfield, and Roy. Sounds like a dream team to me. Probably not a skier among them. I think they appointed somebody from Wasatch County as the coffee boy, but it doesn’t show on their website.
If you Wasatch County residents are thinking that you don’t recall voting for “a citizen supporting military efforts” to manage the biggest thing to hit Wasatch County since the invention of sheep, it’s because you didn’t. Nobody did. They are all appointed by the legislature or the governor. If you don’t like the way they are regulating the development, you can turn them out at the next election — except that there isn’t an election. Suck it up, soldier, you’re in the Army (or MIDA) now.
And so a dozen beds in a shack at Snowbasin have morphed into thousands of units and a ski resort in Wasatch County. That is what they call mission creep. Something about this just doesn’t pass the smell test.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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The transfer of power is one of the miracles of the American system of government, writes columnist Tom Clyde. On Wednesday, he was pleased to see that “normal prevailed” after a tenuous post-election period.