After prolonged deliberation over a complex set of applications, the Driggs City Council voted three to one on Tuesday to approve amendments to the Huntsman Springs planned unit development master plan, which will result in changes to the luxury development including the privatization of all roads, relocation of proposed employee housing, removal of a planned lodge and hotel, and the consolidation of the public parks into one 7.5-acre park near the courthouse.
The intention of the amendments proposed by BDT Capital Partners, the investment firm that bought the property from the Huntsman family in 2017, is the reinvigoration of a golf course subdivision that hasn’t seen much action in the last decade.
The conversation was continued from last week’s city council meeting, at which the council received a number of public comments both in favor and opposed to the changes.
Councilman Ralph Mossman attempted through several different avenues to exert more control over the development, including by requiring a hotel feasibility study, requiring Huntsman Springs to build new employee housing rather than acquiring existing inventory, and making privatization predicated on renewed development in the southern commercial area. City attorney Stephen Zollinger informed Mossman that all of his ideas were legally indefensible.
Mayor Hyrum Johnson added that the council needed to “stop meddling.”
“We need to remember that just because we can require something doesn’t mean we should,” he chided.
Councilman Wade Kaufman said he was in favor of the plans; he felt that the city staff and the planning and zoning commission, which both vetted the project, were strong filters that “wouldn’t let a bad application through.” He said that Huntsman Springs has accomplished many of the growth principles in the comprehensive plan and that it is “nothing but an enhancement to our community.” He felt that privatization was just one small element of the plan, “not a shotgun shot to our boat.”
Councilwoman Erika Earles, who felt that the privatization and gating of Woodland Star and Huntsman Springs Drive were deal breakers, also cited the city’s comprehensive plan. She pointed to a page in the plan that stated that the goal of new development is to blend in with surrounding areas and promote connectivity with adjacent roads and pathways. She felt that gated roads near downtown weren’t in keeping with the spirit of the city, and while privatization might have short term monetary benefits, it would have long term consequences.
The city would stand to benefit financially from the privatization of those roads; public works director Jay Mazalewski estimated that the cost savings in road maintenance would be $1.7 million over 20 years, as well as $140,000 in savings on pathway maintenance.
Council members Mossman and August Christensen were willing to move forward with approval after the council had worked through some discussion points. Those points included: delaying the city’s takeover of park maintenance for two years after completion; requiring that employee housing be built in city limits; the understanding that a pathway will eventually be constructed to connect downtown to 1000W; and allowing the developer to be flexible in deciding whether to build a hotel or condos next to the courthouse.
At the end of the three-hour deliberation, only Earles voted in opposition to the changes to Huntsman Springs.