Residents filled the seating and standing spaces in Wildwood City Council chambers at a Planning & Zoning Commission Hearing on Nov. 6, where a conditional use permit [CUP] for the installation of a zip line requested by Hidden Valley Ski Resort CEO Tim Boyd was discussed. Boyd, who is the President and Chairman of Peak Resorts, said the permit was requested due to the resort losing business from two back-to-back warm winters.
“Having a ski area in this climate is pretty difficult because we’re pretty far south,” Boyd said. “To have a ski area here, you also have to have that extra revenue.”
The addition of a zip line course would cost an estimated $2.5 million and be expected to bring in $1 million in annual revenue, enough to keep the resort going, Boyd said. The proposed course would consist of four zip lines of varying lengths, scattered across the 250-acre property. Peak Resorts originally brought its request to the commission on Sept. 18; however, review of the request was unanimously postponed until Nov. 6.
In the meantime, a neighborhood meeting was held, on Oct. 11, with about 25 residents to gauge community input for the resort addition. Specifically represented were residents from the Remington Heights and Radcliffe Place subdivisions, located to the north of the resort.
“I felt like additional time needed to be taken to hear residents’ concerns and see if they could be addressed,” Mayor Jim Bowlin said of the postponement. “We want them [Hidden Valley] to be successful for the Wildwood residents who work there, visit there for skiing, and for our region,” Bowlin said. “[But] we have to balance their request for the expansion of their operations with our residents’ concerns.”
Prior to Nov. 6, a report was submitted by the city’s Department of Planning that recommended approval of the CUP with three conditions: the alteration of the operating days and hours, and the relocation of one zip line to decrease proximity to local residencies.
On Nov. 6, the commission voted 5-4 to amend the report’s recommendations to remove the relocation of any zip lines but leave the operating days and hours restrictions intact. According to Boyd, limiting the days and hours of the zip lines’ operation would make the addition of the course impractical. In the wake of the vote, the facility’s closure was discussed.
“We’ll definitely operate through this ski season until we can sell the property if we don’t get the zip line,” Boyd said. “That was the key for us to have long-term suitability for this property. We only get to generate revenue three months out of the year. The tooth fairy isn’t going to keep this thing open. It’s got to be kept open by sound economics.”
Additional discussion and a final vote on the CUP request is scheduled for the Nov. 20 P&Z meeting.
“The vote they’re proposing to come up at the next meeting means absolutely nothing to us because it doesn’t overcome our objections to their conditions,” Boyd said. “The one condition that they’re dropping [placement of the zip lines] is one we want dropped, but there are other conditions that relate to our operating days and hours that we’re simply not going to accept. The vote is meaningless to us.”
According to Boyd, one the of the proposed restrictions was to limit zip line usage to the months of April through October. “Under the conditions, they’re trying to impose, we’d spend money on this investment and wouldn’t be able to use it,” Boyd said. “It was so warm last year that people could have zipped all winter.”
Boyd bought the Wildwood Golf Course in 1977 for $250,000. He then converted it to a ski resort in 1982. The facility currently has about 300 employees.
If the resort closes, Boyd said its green space, current zoning and acreage could accommodate over 80 homes. Some residents believe a recreational attraction like a zip line would be better than adding more homes to the area.
“We much prefer the current use and proposed use of zip lines rather than another housing development,” resident Doug Cross said. Cross has lived adjacent to Hidden Valley Drive for over 25 years. “It’s a low-impact, high-value idea.”
However, some negative feedback included concerns about the zip lines potential harm to surrounding wildlife, adverse effects on local traffic and noise levels.
“While the zip line doesn’t expand the resort’s footprint literally, it does expand the days of operation,” Radcliffe Place resident Robin Vorel said at the Nov. 6 meeting. “This business would become a year-round disturbance as opposed to only operating in the winter months.”