Sun Valley City Council members gave initial consent last week to a proposed rezone of approximately 75 acres of open land immediately east of the Dollar Mountain ski area and a smaller site at the base of the mountain, while adding a condition that limits future development.
With Councilman Brad DuFur recusing himself from the proceedings on Thursday, Jan. 21, the council voted 3-0 to approve the first reading of a draft ordinance to rezone about 70 acres of an area called Prospector Hill and an approximately five-acre area at the southwest corner of the Elkhorn Road-Dollar Road intersection, including the Dollar Mountain parking lot. Prospector Hill ranges south and east from Sun Valley City Hall across a sagebrush-covered slope that climbs along Elkhorn Road toward the Skyline Drive neighborhood.
Numerous citizens submitted written comments and made live comments via online video Thursday opposing the rezone, with many stating they want to see the private lands remain open.
However, Mayor Peter Hendricks and City Council members voiced support for the plan.
Hendricks stressed that the rezone plan is the culmination of years of negotiations with the applicant—the landowner, Sun Valley Co.—to keep other, “sacred” open spaces free from development. The public process resulted in a clear agreement, he said.
Approving the application “is a matter of integrity,” Hendricks said.
The City Council will consider approving a second reading of the ordinance at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 4. If council members agree to approve a second reading, they could opt to waive a third, or choose to consider a third and final reading on a future date. The draft ordinance would become a city law after three public readings—two of which can be waived—and receiving the signature of the mayor.
The proposal calls for changing the existing Open Recreation zoning of the land to a variety of zoning designations that could allow for a mix of multi-family residential, single-family residential and some service-oriented development. The rezone application was made last fall as a planned step for the Prospector area in a long series of public discussions and actions related to Sun Valley Co.’s long-term plans for a vast area of land it owns in the city.
Tim Silva, Sun Valley Co. president and general manager, as well Hendricks, explained that the rezone is linked to an agreement between the city and the company to shift development density from the “Gateway” area along Sun Valley Road—which includes the resort’s Horseman’s Center and Penny Hill—to Prospector Hill. In the deal, Sun Valley Co. agreed to trade previously allowed development rights in the Gateway to Prospector to protect the Gateway area with an Open Space zoning designation. The agreement was the result of years of discussions—including public committee meetings, workshops, surveys, and meetings of the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council—that culminated in a 2015 update of the Sun Valley Comprehensive Plan, Silva noted.
“We agreed to let that area be open space,” Silva said. “… Ultimately, a deal is a deal.”
The rezone would bring the Prospector lands into compliance with a city land-use map and vision adopted as part of the 2015 update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the guiding land-use document for the city. The Open Recreation zoning district is being phased out by the city, which is working to change the designation of all land in that zone, city officials have said. The rezone out of the “placeholder” Open Recreation district—which limits development but allows recreational uses—is mandated by city code, the city has stated.
The 2015 update of the Comprehensive Plan outlines a potential maximum of 112 units for the Prospector site, including 32 single-family and 60 multi-family units on the east side of Elkhorn Road and 20 multi-family units on the site at the base of Dollar Mountain. Silva said Sun Valley Co. is committed to observing the outlined maximum densities, but does not now have a specific development plan.
The proposed ordinance calls for changing about 40 acres from Open Recreation to Single-Family Residential, which allows two housing units per acre. Approximately 17 acres would be rezoned to Multiple-Family Residential—permitting up to 14 units per acre—and about 14 acres would be zoned in the Open Space designation, which primarily allows trails, equestrian uses and agriculture. Approximately two acres would be rezoned to Service Commercial—intended to allow “low-intensity commercial activity,” a city staff report states—and approximately 2.5 acres would be rezoned to Public/Institutional, intended for public services or gatherings.
Development plans for the Prospector area—and the specifics therein—would go through the city’s established approval processes.
In the public hearing, Ed Lawson, attorney for an opposition group called Protect Prospector Hill, said the application has multiple legal flaws and asked that the matter be reviewed. He said the city should ask for a development plan for the site, adding that there is “no reason to rush” a decision.
Peter Palmedo, chairman of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan Citizens’ Steering Committee, called the proceedings a “rushed process” and said the Prospector site warrants a “detailed master-planning effort.”
However, Hendricks, who was also a member of the same 2015 committee, said it was deemed a high priority among citizens to protect the Gateway—where zoning had allowed up to 14 units per acre—leading to the deal with Sun Valley Co. to trade density to Prospector.
“There will be no development on the Penny Hill side of the road at all,” he said.
Councilwoman Michelle Griffith also said the agreement should be acknowledged.
“They have rights as private landowners,” she said.
In approving the first reading of the ordinance, council members stipulated that the rezone specifically match the 2015 update of the Comprehensive Plan and correspond to the suggested maximum density of 112 housing units on the entirety of the area.