Town is still doubtful on Snow King letter

January 31, 2019

The Town Council resisted Snow King’s most pressing request at its sixth meeting on the resort’s master plan update, withholding support for on-mountain projects that have yet to face Forest Service scrutiny.

Snow King officials have said their top priority is for the councilors to send a letter to the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which would give the green light — at least contingent upon the forest’s approval — to a handful of proposals under its jurisdiction.

“Far and away the most important thing for us is support for the Forest Service plan,” Snow King representative Jeff Golightly said. “The reason we came here originally was we wanted to invest in recreation on the hill.”

The elected officials failed to reach an agreement, however, leaving question marks on a handful of proposals.

They have so far OK’d a gondola on town property and an observatory at the summit. But they remain hesitant about a zip line, beginner terrain at the top, development on the backside, a boundary expansion and a summit access road.

From the beginning, officials have disliked the fact that their process and the Forest Service’s are out of sync. With the town poised to conclude its review months sooner, it has no environmental impact study to inform their decisions on potentially harmful projects, like expansion.

“It’s really hard for me to take much of a step without seeing the science,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said.

Snow King officials asked for a generic letter expressing broad support for the resort’s mountain plans, as long as the Forest Service finds no major environmental problems.

“That would give us that level of assurance to say to ourselves this is a step and risk worth taking,” said Ryan Stanley, Snow King’s general manager.

Snow King officials have gone so far as to say that without that kind of conditional approval they would have to withdraw their entire amendment to the master plan.

The town has until its own review process is complete to decide whether to send a letter to the Forest Service, so nothing is final yet. A vote against the letter could jeopardize efforts to update the master plan that have absorbed the town over the past year.

As Councilor Hailey Morton-Levinson asked, “How much is the letter worth?”

The council also rejected a new housing proposal from the Snow King Resort Master Association, which consists of all landowners within the resort district. The association sought to house more seasonal employees — and to put them in dormitories — in exchange for undertaking a higher housing mitigation rate than any other business in town.

Ultimately, though, the councilors agreed that strategy was inconsistent with the community’s stated mission: to provide homes for employees who live and work year-round in Teton County.

“As far as meeting or furthering our goals for housing,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said of the proposal, “it does nothing.”

The council chose to stick with the initial plan, under which all SKRMA members would be required to house 100 percent of their full-time employees.

The final item on the night’s agenda was to negotiate leases for town land. Snow King has proposed increasing the lease rates and paying a larger one-time contribution in exchange for landing a gondola on town land, but as of press time the council had yet to make a decision.

Councilors postponed the matter until their regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday. If they finish then, the master plan amendment with their revisions will go back to SKRMA, after which more negotiation may ensue.

If both sides can agree, the amendment will come before the town again as an ordinance, which it will read three times before signing into law. There will be opportunities for public comment at the readings.