After a nine-month hiatus the Town Council is back to examining Snow King’s master plan, and public interest in the subject hasn’t waned.
Almost exactly a year ago more than 200 people attended a meeting to offer their thoughts on the future of development on the Town Hill. On Monday a smaller crowd of several dozen — including some of the same faces — showed up to do it again.
The many voices converged on one theme: After hundreds of hours of public review and subsequent adjustments to the controversial master plan, it seems an acceptable solution has never been nearer. Even Councilor Jim Stanford, one of the most steadfast Snow King skeptics, appeared optimistic.
“I like the direction that this application has been going,” he said. “I think we’ve been having a very productive community dialogue.”
The master plan before the council now is the second iteration. Representatives of the Snow King Resort Master Association, or SKRMA (an HOA-like group of property owners in the resort district), withdrew the first one early this year after hitting an impasse in negotiations with the council.
Since then they’ve submitted an updated plan — the main purpose of which is to help the resort achieve financial stability — that includes virtually all the requests the councilors made in their first review. In doing so they’ve conceded to a long list of obligations, which includes everything from implementing a parking and transportation plan to running the lifts a certain number of hours each week.
Perhaps the most significant new requirement is that SKRMA must charge a fee on all commercial activity, except real estate transfers, in the resort district. But how exactly that fee should function is one of the most hotly debated aspects of the plan.
As it stands the fee could be used for a wide variety of uses, from road repair to trail maintenance to sewer upgrades. SKRMA wants the authority to use it however board members see fit.
But some critics of the master plan, including the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, are holding out hope that the fee — if it were required to finance ski operations — could preclude the need for contentious money-making amenities like a zipline and summit restaurant.
“Without a SKRMA fee to support the operation of the ski hill,” said Brooke Sausser, community planning manager at the Alliance, “amusement park attractions will be needed to fund the hill and further detract from the historic value.”
Skye Schell, executive director of the Alliance, argues that based on the wording in the original master plan from 2000, this was its intent for the fee. Snow King argues the opposite. As resort representative Jeff Golightly put it, “Reasonable people are looking at the exact same thing and coming up with different conclusions, and we’re tired of that.”
Golightly repeated the resort’s desire to clear up those ambiguities, but the council has yet to decide how that will be done. Schell suggested that “we don’t need to debate or agree on the language or intentions 20 years ago, because you get to create a new deal now.”
Snow King has agreed that the fee could be used as a backstop for funding skiing, if the resort falls out of compliance with the master plan. Golightly argued that’s a fair way to bridge the gap between the two competing perspectives on the fee.
Another lingering confusion involves the structure of SKRMA. It’s unclear whether certain condo associations are included, and therefore whether they need to pay the fee. Some condo owners are hesitant to be included, fearing their single vote on the SKRMA board won’t be adequate representation alongside the other six votes divided equally between the mountain resort and the Snow King Hotel.
Some people questioned other aspects of Snow King’s plan, such as boundary expansions and road building, which are under review by the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service will decide what’s allowed on national forest land included in the mountain plan.
Overall, Golightly said, after more than two dozen public meetings and hundreds of public comments, “We think we’ve been incredibly responsive to an extraordinary amount of community feedback.”
Disputes aside, many who spoke Monday agreed, praising the resort for its efforts to better align the master plan with community needs.
Brian Krill, executive director of the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club, said he felt Snow King had been responsive to suggestions from people and organizations with a range of opinions. He agreed that aspects of the master plan still need work, but said the town can’t keep “hemming and hawing” or else “we’ll be sitting here five years from now.”
The danger of further prolonging Snow King’s challenges is real, he said, citing notes from a 1946 meeting between the ski club and Snow King representatives that “are not too dissimilar from the discussion here tonight.”
“All the issues brought up tonight are valid,” Krill said, “but we’ve come to a point where we need leadership and we need decisions to be made that clearly give a path forward.”
After 2 1/2 hours of presentations and public comment on the master plan the councilors didn’t delve into it themselves. They’ll revisit the subject at their next meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 16.