On the evening of Jan. 22, the Wildwood City Council voted 13-3 in favor of a resolution granting approval of a conditional use permit [CUP] permitting the installation of a four-line Zip Tour course at Hidden Valley Ski Resort, located near the terminus of Hidden Valley Drive, west of its Alt Road intersection.
For some, the addition of the zip line is a chance to renew the resort and bring a new audience of people to the Wildwood area. For others, it’s a cause for concern.
“I feel this resort is a way of growing, and bringing new energy and communities into our area,” Wildwood resident and ski instructor Ana Johnson said.
Recommendations from the Planning & Parks Committee’s meeting on Jan. 2 were upheld in the final vote, including the relocation and shortening of zip line 4. Its length has been shortened to about 1,500 feet from an original distance of about 2,600 feet.
“It has some perks for us, too – with relocating the line and making it so people are closer to the lodge – but I think it showed that we were willing to work and compromise,” Jason Boyd, senior vice president of operations at Peak Resorts [the parent company of Hidden Valley Ski Resort], said. “We hope to get started [on construction] as soon as possible.”
The Zip Tour will operate from 9 a.m. to sunset and will remain open all 12 months of the year.
According to Boyd, the next step will require submitting a drawing to Wildwood and St. Louis County for approval. Hopes are for construction to be complete by summer 2018. Peak Resorts CEO Tim Boyd stated in June 2017 that the lines would cost an estimated $2.5 million, but bring in annual revenue of $1 million.
Many residents from adjacent subdivisions and supporters of Hidden Valley gathered on Jan. 22 to hear the vote. The most frequently voiced concern was noise from riders, machinery and cables. Residents in the nearby Radcliffe Place subdivision near the northern property line were especially concerned.
However, a sound study commissioned by the city and conducted by McClure Engineering on Jan. 15 concluded that the zip line operation will increase noise levels by just three A-weighted decibels [dBA] above current background noises toward the north side of the property. Human screams could reach around 50 dBA near the property line, but the study determined that if the screams last for 15 minutes during a one-hour period, the sound at the residential property line would still be within the city’s noise code, not exceeding 55 dBA during daytime hours.
Some residents scrutinized the results of the study, claiming that readings were taken from the property line of a nearby vacant property and not the property line of the Hidden Valley resort, as dictated by the ordinance.
According to Joe Vujnich, director of planning and public works, the data will be re-evaluated and updated for a more accurate report to be made public in the near future.
“I can already hear the resort, and now I’ll hear things 12 months out of the year,” Radcliffe Place resident Patricia Fuller said.
Along with noise concerns, one of the biggest disappointments cited by speakers throughout the evening was the CUP’s process. Specifically, residents cited the unverified claims that Hidden Valley’s financial situation was severe enough to justify closure, the quasi-judicial process of the Jan. 2 Parks & Planning Committee Meeting and disclosed emails referencing communications between Hidden Valley, City Administrator Ryan Thomas and Economic Development Director Julian Jacquin dating back to 2016 regarding economic expansion opportunities with Hidden Valley.
“You have people who are angry at each other that didn’t have to land here, but [they] did land here, because from the get-go this was initiated poorly,” Wildwood resident Stacy Jackson said at the Jan. 22 meeting.
According to Thomas, while the city did initiate conversation with Hidden Valley about hosting a Tough Mudder weekend, the city wasn’t informed of the resort’s formal zip line tour proposal until May 2017, shortly before its official submittal to the city.
“Prior to the zip line proposal by Hidden Valley, there were general discussions regarding the potential for some type of summer activity to help sustain the business and provide greater opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the resort year-round,” Thomas said. “During those discussions, it was clearly communicated to Hidden Valley that any such proposals would require a request to amend their CUP and that they should communicate with residents to hear their concerns before submitting any proposals to the city.”
While the biggest concern for nearby residents is still noise-related, Hidden Valley will be held to the city’s existing noise code according to decibel readings from the resort’s property line. Hidden Valley also has agreed to work with the city regarding potential noise complaints.
Councilmember Greg Stine [Ward 7] stated that the vote was a difficult one for the city to make.
“We are in a difficult situation,” Stine said at the Jan. 22 meeting. “We’re trying to do our best, and I hope everyone realizes we have the best of intent for the community.”