Friday, December 30, 2011

In Sun Valley, discord at City Hall

City withstands contention, resort expands facilities


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley City Hall saw its share of contentious issues in 2011. From an abrupt end to a land-use application, to a shake-up in the mayor's seat, to an internal conflict resulting in a lawsuit, the city's bumpy year came to a close with many questions lingering. Despite economic and political uncertainty, Sun Valley Resort expanded recreational options with an optimistic eye toward the future.

Land-use proposals spark protest

Some development applications to the city gained a following—a contingent of protesters who rallied to stop them.

Sun Valley Co. had requested revisions to the text of the 2005 comprehensive plan update and the land-use designation of the future land-use map as they apply to the company's property. Areas under consideration were Sun Valley Lake, Prospector Hill, the commercial core, Horseman/Community School and Gateway land use planning areas.

A public hearing on the issue in August drew more than 125 people to the City Council meeting, including protesters outside City Hall.

A month later, Sun Valley Co. abruptly withdrew its application. Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co.'s director of resorts and resort development, chastised the city, saying the review and approval process is broken, resulting in a huge expense to the company.

That prompted city officials to discuss how they could improve the process and whether the comp plan should be reviewed and possibly updated ahead of schedule.

In another application, the Sun Valley Planning & Zoning Commission dealt a blow to potential plans by the Sun Valley Elkhorn Association for future development of land it owns on Prospector Hill. The association sought changes to the future land-use map in the city's comp plan, seeking to redesignate land identified for recreational use and open space to low-density residential.

The P&Z unanimously voted to recommend denial of the application, prompting cheers from members of the public who packed City Hall.

Following the P&Z's action, the Sun Valley Elkhorn Association withdrew its application.

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Elected officials' shakeup

In early November, Sun Valley voters elected a new mayor, ousting incumbent Wayne Willich in favor of Council President Dewayne Briscoe. Two new faces were elected to the City Council.

In running for the mayoral position, Briscoe had to vacate his seat on the council. That left two seats up for vote: his and the one held by Joan Lamb.

Lamb submitted a petition of candidacy signed by five Sun Valley residents. One of the signatures was invalid because the person had not registered to vote in Sun Valley. Without a sufficient number of signatures, Lamb's petition was declared invalid.

Lamb ran as a write-in candidate, but came in third, behind political newcomers Michelle Griffith and Franz Suhadolnik.

The new officials will be sworn in next week.

Lawsuit pits city leaders against each other

In late November, City Administrator Sharon Hammer filed a lawsuit against the city, City Councilmen Nils Ribi and Bob Youngman and City Attorney Adam King—a matter still pending in Fifth District Court as of Dec. 29.

In the suit, Hammer claims the city failed to protect her from alleged harassment by Ribi. She also claimed Ribi launched an effort to have her removed from her job as retribution for her accusing him of mistreatment, which he has vehemently denied. The suit asserts that he obtained and used confidential information about her, with the help of King and Youngman.

The nature of a concurrent special investigation remains publicly unknown.

Hammer and at least one other city employee were placed on paid administrative leave. Hammer returned to active duty this week.

So far, Mayor Wayne Willich has been quiet on the staff leaves, the investigation and the lawsuit.

Hammer's attorney and husband, James Donoval, said discussions with the city were under way. An outside attorney representing the city in the suit has declined comment.

Sun Valley expands offerings

Sun Valley Resort celebrated its 75th birthday in December. With celebrations recognizing its past, the resort also made plans for the future.

Sun Valley Co. took ownership of the 18-hole Elkhorn Golf Course on July 1, bringing the total number of Sun Valley holes to 45.

The resort plans to keep the member-based structure but open the course for some public use.

Baldy saw the addition of "adventure trails,"—kid-specific skiing zones. Also new to the mountain is 30 acres of gladed terrain.

The halfpipe was moved off Baldy to Dollar Mountain's Old Bowl.

The resort also made additions to its terrain park on Dollar. Skiers and riders have more than 50 rails and jibs to choose from, and a new progression park.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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