ST. GEORGE — Following an impassioned pushback and petition that garnered more than 30,000 signatures in June opposing the “glamping” development on Kolob Mountain, the Above Zion developer has submitted an updated application to the Washington County Planning Commission that reduces the total project size from approximately 2,000 units to 442.
It’s been a little over a year since Ian Crowe, Above Zion developer and owner of Zions Gate Management Company, submitted an application for a conditional use permit to the County Commission for the purpose of developing rural recreation and primitive campgrounds as well as furnished campgrounds for “glamping,” which is a type of luxury camping that often includes amenities or even resort-style services.
The main development would be located south of Kolob Terrace Road behind the Kolob General Store and immediately north of where Kolob Creek borders the northwest section of Zion National Park.
As previously reported by St. George News, the original application estimated hosting as many as 5,000 visitors at a time and was marketed as a way to help alleviate some of the pressure on Zion National Park by providing a nearby destination that offers guests recreational and camping opportunities. The public hearing relative to this application was scheduled for May 12 and then postponed due to technical restraints of remote participation, when around 750 people attempted to log in to the Zoom meeting.
Since then, the project has been significantly downsized. In a recent email to St. George News, Crowe said they reduced the total number of units “by over 75%” and dropped the Highlands project completely. The current unit count for Above Zion is 442 on 1,148 acres, or one unit every 2.6 acres, with a need for 900 parking spaces.
At max capacity, this project could host approximately 2,308 people at any give time, Crowe said, adding that the project is designed to grow in phases and will be built dependent on market demand for specific unit types.
“Keep in mind … this is like a 20 to 25 year build out,” he said. “It would start with like 50 units or something, then you’d build trails, and then you’d build some other stuff, and then if that 50 units was doing great, then you’d add another 40 or something, and then at some point, you’d do a second camp that would be along the trails. For people to say there’s going to be 3,000 people up on Kolob, that’s just not an accurate thing.”
The project consists of 11 phases of self-contained developments totaling 25 cabins, 199 glamping units, 15 yurts, 20 treehouses and 156 improved campsites. Each of the phases would be managed by Zions Gate Management Company and staffed according to the needs of each phase.
The application also states that it provides additional details concerning on-site design and engineering data per the suggestion of the County Commission and takes into consideration public feedback. The proposal forecasts that overnight accommodations will raise more than $2.2 million a year in tax revenue for the county.
Some of the concerns expressed previously had to do with potential traffic hazards and worries that Kolob Terrace Road is unfit to support an increase in visitors as well as general water, septic and fire support for the area. In terms of water, Crowe said they have springs on their property that put out “a ton of water” and that there are no water rights in those springs up above Kolob.
“What could happen is other water rights up above Kolob could be transferred to a source,” he said. “What we would do is buy water rights through the water conservancy district or even a private party and put water rights into those springs that are already on our land, and then we use that to build a public water company.”
Regarding fire management, the application states they plan to implement a FireWise plan, developed with input from the Hurricane Valley Fire District.
Much of this plan, however, is about maintaining rights of the land, Crowe said.
“This is about having the right to do it (develop) and having a plan to do it. And then it grows – it grows by itself,” he said. “If it grows that means it’s done well.”
The application addresses this level of uncertainty and states that instead of trying to predict all potential future issues and subsequent resolutions, they are instead proposing a list of conditions designed to “reasonably mitigate any reasonably anticipated detrimental impacts” and other development-related issues. For instance, they will not issue any building permits until adequate assurance is provided that the water needs of the project can be met.
In addition to the campground sites, the plan is also to continue developing recreational opportunities. One of the completed recreational opportunities, Angels Leading Ledgewalk, which opened in August, has already been a success, Crowe said, adding that they are also looking to develop mountain bike trails.
Cimarron Chacon, who was hired by Crowe about three years ago, told St. George News she worked in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management to put together a recreation master plan, which included approximately 25 to 30 miles of mountain bike trail.
“It was a large master plan, and there were several phases to it, and it included a lot of different recreation amenities including mountain bike trails. The BLM was on board, and they were consulted, but it never moved forward because there were some access issues,” she said.
“Once I finished the plan, it was out of my hands. I have nothing to do with it, and I don’t plan to,” Chacon said, adding that at this point, it would be the BLM who would be developing those trails if they adopt that plan.
‘Past the point of no return’
Craig Perry, a lawyer out of Las Vegas who started the petition to oppose this development, told St. George News that even with the reduction, he still thinks this project “takes us past the point of no return.”
“This area is never going to be the same; it’s never going to recover.”
Perry, who owns a cabin on Kolob, said that according to his calculations based on the numbers in the proposal, at max capacity, this development could hold as many as 3,274 people.
“This is not primitive camping,” he said. “This is still a major development.”
One of his main concerns has to do with the proposal’s assertion that the Hurricane Valley Fire Special Service District has a legal obligation to provide fire protection.
“If that was true, which it isn’t, it would require tax payers to pony up for that because it’s saying it’s mandated. But in all actuality, the conditional use permit says that any development cannot have an impact on existing services, and that’s grounds for denying the conditional use permit.”
They don’t have a will-serve letter from any of the districts either, he added.
Referencing the 13 recreational activities outlined in the project, such as horseback riding, spelunking, rock climbing and astronomy tours, Perry said this is only going to further congest traffic, as there will be both day-trippers and overnighters going up and down the mountain.
Rather than alleviating pressure on Zion National Park, he said this development is actually going to lure more people to the area.
But his primary concern, he said, is that the original applications Crowe submitted in October 2019 contained inaccurate information, such as filing on behalf of a property they didn’t own yet and “didn’t transfer until some weeks or months later.”
“The question is going to come down to whether they need to refile or whether they can continue to amend under their existing applications.”
These inaccuracies could necessitate new filing, he said, in which case they would have to comply with the new guidelines.
“The whole thing is about money, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the bottom line. This is all about making a bunch of money. If they can take $2.2 million dollars a year in taxes or whatever period of time that is, what are they making?” he said. “This isn’t about loving the area. It’s about making money.”
In an email to St. George News, Cory MacNulty, associate director of the southwest region of the National Parks Conservation Association, echoed Perry’s concern.
MacNulty said that while this project is being presented as a reduced version of the mega-development that was initially proposed, these updated plans continue to call for the construction of a major tourism center designed to draw thousands of people to a quiet scenic area next to Zion National Park’s wilderness and premier backcountry destinations.
“We remain concerned that this scale of development above the park threatens the amount and the quality of water flowing through the park into the Virgin River as well as the park’s natural quiet and dark night skies,” she wrote, adding that the numbers of visitors to the development will mean “hundreds or thousands more vehicle trips per day on Kolob Terrace Road.”
Crowe told St. George News he hopes to get on the agenda for the Washington County Planning Commission by January.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.