Snow King Mountain Resort’s sweeping plan to renovate the Town Hill is likely to play out longer after the Jackson Town Council declined to support several pivotal projects.
Just when the council and resort representatives seemed close to agreement on an update to the Snow King master plan, an insurmountable obstacle emerged: Councilors couldn’t bring themselves to sign off on a zip line, summit road and boundary expansion, even if the U.S. Forest Service clears the proposals.
Without that assurance, Snow King officials said they’ll shelve negotiations with the town until after Bridger-Teton National Forest experts move further along with their environmental impact statement.
“It seems that what would be really helpful to you is some certainty,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said. “We can’t provide that. But time can, so I certainly hope we can pick this up more or less right where we left it.”
The Forest Service should have a draft EIS ready by summer, though the final statement won’t be complete until late 2019 or early 2020.
Councilors said they’d like to use that analysis as a compass in their own consideration of things like the summit road and boundary expansion, which could be environmentally or geologically harmful. Though they do not have a say on such projects, their opinions will to some extent influence the Forest Service.
Skye Schell, director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, has led a campaign against many of Snow King’s proposals. He said after the meeting that he was “so relieved the Town Council didn’t give a blanket OK to the highly controversial Snow King development plans.”
Councilor Arne Jorgensen said he and his colleagues could try to work in tune with the Forest Service, rather than “go silent until they’re done.”
The elected officials could weigh in more thoughtfully as the Bridger-Teton publishes its draft EIS and generates alternatives for various aspects of the plan.
“That could certainly accelerate it quicker if you guys are able to make those comments earlier on,” said Jeff Golightly, a Snow King representative.
As for the town’s progress over three arduous months of meetings, Councilor Jonathan Schechter argued all isn’t lost. Though the plan is in limbo for now, the council did settle on a list of revisions to Snow King’s master plan — no small feat.
The Snow King Resort Master Association (an umbrella organization composed of landowners in the resort district) still has to agree to the conditions, but there don’t seem to be many major sticking points aside from some Forest Service projects, like the zip line and summit road.
“It’s only a few issues that are keeping us apart,” Schechter said. “They may be deal breakers, but I for one would be open to hearing ideas about how to address those few issues.
“It’s not a complete mess at this point,” he said. “It’s just a very particular and deep mess.”
Assuming SKRMA does pick up where it left off, it will be looking at 30 revisions to the master plan. The amendments range from minor procedural tweaks to broad overhauls of Snow King’s vision and financial underpinning.
SKRMA itself has been one of the most controversial elements throughout a yearlong public process. One faction argues the master association, formed in 2000, has never functioned as intended in funding the ski hill; the other that it was never meant to fund the ski hill at all.
Either way, one of the amendments requires that SKRMA submit an annual report to the town, detailing information on its membership, financial state and compliance with obligations in the master plan.
The master association will also be required to assess a 1 percent fee on lodging and ticket sales to ensure it always has enough in reserve to meet those obligations.
The revised master plan also mandates that SKRMA must house 100 percent of its full-time, year-round employees. The master association requested a different arrangement, which would have allowed developers in the resort district to meet its housing mitigation requirements by housing seasonal employees in dorms. But the council decided that was inconsistent with community housing goals.
Another widely scrutinized piece of Snow King’s proposal is a gondola landing in Phil Baux Park. The new master plan would allow it, so long as the gondola does not bisect the park.
Besides these, a slew of conditions would dictate SKRMA’s obligations to maintain communal infrastructure, manage parking and transportation around the resort, and operate at least 49 hours each week, among other things.
Looming over it all is a phasing system, which would ensure Snow King receives permits for development gradually, as it fulfills its requirements. If it runs afoul of the master plan, it will not receive any more permits until it can reach some kind of agreement with the town.
Snow King’s Golightly said they would take the council’s amendments back to SKRMA for a vote. However, he said the likelihood of them agreeing without the council’s support of the mountain projects is “very low.”
“I see no way that we’ll be able to retain counsel to start working through all of that, given where we are today,” he said. “This may be pushed much further down the line.”