Star Valley Council Debates Well Use

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The Star Valley Council on Tuesday Jan. 15 gave muffled approval to a zoning revision that will enable a developer to sell ownership shares in six luxury "cabins" alongside an artificial stream and fishing ponds for about $18 million.

Council caveats about using well water to supply a stream and fish ponds on the six-acre parcel left a smudged legal question mark over the council's vote to approve the zoning overlay to allow fractional ownership of the six, 3,500-square-foot second-home cabins, dubbed the Residence Club at Wilderness Run. The developer says fractional ownership represents the hottest innovation in the second-home market.

The council made its vote contingent on developer Kimball Rogers obtaining clearance from the Gila County Flood Control District and further discussions about a town-imposed requirement that Rogers not use groundwater to maintain the water features.

"It would be hypocritical of us to approve this subdivision as it stands," said Councilman Art Lloyd. Disputes with Payson and the county about approving subdivisions that would deplete groundwater reserves played a key role in the fight to incorporate Star Valley two years ago.

"All our battles have been over water issues," continued Lloyd, "perhaps legally we can't stop it, but this is a moral issue. When there's a drought and the spring he's using to feed those water features dries, those ponds need to dry up, too. As it stands now, I have to oppose this concept unless we get assurances from the developer he's not going to use groundwater (for the water features)."

Rogers sat quietly in the audience as the council debated how the town could prevent him from using well water for the ponds, which would normally be sustained with the flow from a natural spring out of a two-inch diameter pipe.

Earlier, the council had spent nearly an hour in a study session reviewing Roger's plan to sell 10-percent ownership in each of the six cabins for about $300,000 each. Owners would have the right to at least five weeks' use of the cabin each year and would use a scheduling program that would rotate use during high demand summer months. That study session discussion didn't focus on the groundwater pumping issues, but did explore questions about the altered drainage patterns of the property.

The council ultimately approved the zoning overlay, contingent on getting the flood control district to sign off and on resolving questions about "hydrology," which was intended to cover the issue of the groundwater.

However, Rogers said as he left the meeting that the town had no legal right to prevent him from using water pumped from the 2-4 wells now on the property for the planned water features.

"It's illegal to ask it and they have no way to enforce it," said Rogers.

The council also apparently mistakenly skipped an advertised public hearing on the zoning overlay request, although none of the dozen people in the audience had apparently come to speak on the development that had been approved, rejected and then this week, re-approved by the town council.

Town Attorney Tim Grier said he hadn't noticed that the council forgot to open a public hearing for comments. He also declined to comment on the developer's assertion that the town had no legal right to restrict his use of well water on the property. "I don't know and I'm not willing to give you a legal opinion on the spot," he said.

"I understand that we don't have an ordinance to prohibit a developer from pumping groundwater for a pond or a golf course. But the owner has come to us for this overlay," said Lloyd, which should give the town leverage to seek an agreement not to use well water for the ponds.

Town Manager Vito Tedeschi said the developer had agreed to participate in the town's program to monitor well levels. Lloyd said monitoring the wells didn't necessarily give the town any control the water usage even if well levels dropped sharply.

The debate about the water features was the only discordant note in the discussion of an innovative development that represents a hot trend in the second-home market.

Rogers noted that he's building the first fractional ownership project in Rim Country, although other developers have successfully used the approach in Scottsdale and Sedona and places like Las Vegas.

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