Dear Mayor Muldoon & Councilors:
Thank you in advance for reading these follow-up comments about Snow King, on behalf of a wide range of community members. I appreciate your time so close to your meeting tonight. I’ll keep this quick:
We believe the key open question regarding Snow King is how to enforce compliance with any deal you make to keep the lifts running. We agree that you should very clearly define what that entails and make sure you can enforce it in perpetuity.
To date, we have not seen any workable option presented in your staff reports or in your discussions with the applicant. We do not believe this is for lack of effort. We believe the applicant and staff are working in good faith to come up with a functional proposal, but that they have not been successful yet. Even the revised outline in your latest staff report doesn’t come close to solving the following issues:
As you know, the currently-proposed option doesn’t work because you can only guarantee compliance until base area buildout. The “stick” of putting a hold on building permits only works as long as property owners have undeveloped land. Once they’re done building, you have no more leverage to enforce the “lifts running 49 hours a week,” “reserve fund,” or any other nice language on paper. Regardless of how honorable the current investors are, we can’t assume that they’ll own it forever. What if someone less honorable buys the ski area or the hotel in the future? Also, this option would break down piece by piece. As soon as any owner builds out their property (like Lot 53, say, or the hotel), they can stop contributing with no consequences. And a “reserved fund” of $500,000 will not keep the ski area going for very long. Overall, if SKRMA controls where the money goes, you will eventually have no leverage, and there’s no telling if the ski resort will keep running the lifts. No matter how much you believe in the current owners’ good intentions, please future-proof Snow King so we don’t end up back here in 5, 10, or 50 years.
On the other hand, we believe a 1-2% fee on all commercial activity at the base, required to support ski area operations, could work. (Especially if it includes a transfer fee on future condo development sales.) We were very heartened to see the Ski Club’s comments a few weeks ago also supporting a dedicated SKRMA fee for ski area / winter operations. We are researching the details of how exactly to make the fee binding in perpetuity (and if there are any other workable options) and will let you know what we learn right away.
We also believe that the fee is fair. There are community benefit fees on development at the base of Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (Shooting Star), so it’s only fair that development at the base of Snow King also contributes to our community.
Our request today: please don’t agree to a big-picture deal until after you have a workable compliance framework. Please don’t punt the compliance question now, as that will put you in a situation where you’re tempted to OK a bad deal just to be done with it. (The classic development “war of attrition”.) Rather, please negotiate a good deal for our community now.
If the developers walk away from the table again, they won’t get a lot of things they want: the ability to reconfigure development at the hotel; a more-marketable KM6; more-buildable Lots 53, 57, and 58; the first step of approval for a zipline; and continued sweetheart deals on almost 30 acres of Town-owned land at the base. The “gives and gets” are fairly well tilted towards the developers at this point.
Please hold out for a good deal for Snow King and our community.
Thank you for your hard work,
p.s. we support the staff recommendations regarding non-subdivision of recreational amenities: (1) to include amenities on USFS land and (2) to reject the applicant’s attempt to get language that “recreational amenity applications consistent with ski areas will be generally permitted” in future – that is an inappropriate attempt to cut our community out of specific development review.