ZipTour Update

November 17, 2017

Dear Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission of the City of Wildwood, Missouri,

The purpose of this letter is to offer feedback to the Commission as the Petitioner Peak Resorts (Hidden Valley Golf and Ski) regarding petition number P.Z. 11-17 for the installation of a 4-span recreational zip line course on the existing two hundred forty-five (245) acre property. 

This letter will be referencing the “Information Report” prepared by the Department of Planning and provided to the Commission for use in the November, 6 2017 Executive Meeting.  It is important to note that the Petitioner was not involved nor included in the preparation of the “Information Report” including the conditions set forth in its pages.  The Planning Department has had multiple meetings with opposed individuals of the ZipTour to gather concerns but has yet to have a single meeting with the Petitioner to allow for a response. As such other than verbal responses to questions at the November 6, 2017 Executive Meeting this will be the first instance the Petitioner has had the ability to address the conditions included in the “Information Report.”

To begin the letter will address the 4 numbered items included in the “Informational Report” under the heading “Master Plan Considerations for Zip Line Course.”

  1. The size of the proposed Conditional Use Permit (CUP) area is being recommended for reduction. The Department believes the addition of approximately thirty-three (33) acres into the overall use area would not be consistent in this case with several of the statements provided above.  Additionally, by this recommendation, the City is able to ensure the area where the current permits exist is utilized for the zip line course as well, which eliminates concerns relating to new activity encroaching closer to the residential dwellings located to the north of the property. Therefore, this proposed area, which would now not be part of any active use location on the property, provides the preservation and protection identified in the City’s Master Plan for surrounding large-lot single family areas.  This change will require the zip lines to be shortened, specifically Lines #3 and #4.  The reduction in area also provides protections to the two (2) abutting, large, but vacant, properties that share a common boundary line with this proposed Conditional Use Permit (CUP).
  • It is Hidden Valley’s understanding that the Commission voted to remove this condition allowing Lines #3 and #4 to remain unchanged from their original engineered design at the Nov.6th meeting.  As conveyed at the meeting the shortening of Lines #3 and #4 make the spans incompatible from a height perspective with the existing infrastructure of the ski area.  We appreciate the Commission’s understanding of this point.  
  1.  The proposed zip line course will reutilize almost all of the existing improvements that have been constructed on the site and minimize any new disturbance that would have been necessary for the installation of the same.  These existing improvements include the access roadways, parking lots, wastewater facility, support facilities, trails, and lift systems. 
  • Agree
  1. The Petitioner will be required to provide a sound analysis of the zip line courses, prior to action on the Site Development Plan by the Planning and Zoning Commission.  This analysis would model the characteristics of the site, and the proposed zip lines, and provide an anticipated sound level(s) for its operation.  Thereafter, if the sound associated with its operation were determined problematic, the requirement relating to coating the cabling with a rubber or plastic material designed to soften/lessen sound associated with its use would then be applied, before any installation would be authorized.  Again, this action is consistent with controlling the environmental impacts resulting from future development.
  • Sound analysis was provided to the Commission and was included in the “Information Report” packet (pg. 27) for discussion at the Nov. 6th meeting.  The sound analysis by Lawrence Allen, P.E. ASE Engineering for a ZipTour Course installation in Snowbird, UT showed decibel readings of the same ZipTourTM trolley traveling on a wire rope as will be used at Hidden Valley.  The sound analysis was conducted over open ground with no trees present to buffer sound. At 300 ft away from the trolley descending the wire rope it shows a reading of 58 db (decibels) which is less noise than wind in trees at 30 ft away 60 db (decibels).  There is more than 600 ft of continuous forest creating a natural buffer on the north side of the property which will greatly impact the ability of sound to travel in that direction.  It is important to note that upon discussion with the ZipTour manufacturer there is no “rubber or plastic material designed” to “coat” the wire rope that they have heard of in their industry. 
  • Below is a comment from the ZipTour manufacturer referencing their experience with an installation at Sundance Resort in Utah.
  • Sundance: 

One of the largest ZipTour systems currently installed is at Sundance Resort in Utah.  This resort and the ZipTour is owned by Mr. Robert Redford who is known worldwide for his efforts in environmental protection.  We worked closely with Mr. Redford to ensure the ZipTour met his high standards for minimal environmental disturbance.  Mr. Redford was also very sensitive to effects on wildlife and other environmental sensitive issues.  It is important to mention that the Sundance ZipTour has not negatively affected the elk, deer and falcon populations which are already located on or around his resort.  To date the ZipTour is the only summer activity installed at Sundance and it has been a tremendous success for the resort and all of Mr. Redford’s visitors, including the most environmentally conscious.  The ZipTour uses no power, and is considered one of the most sustainable summer activities.  It is important to mention that at Sundance Resort there are dozens of multimillion dollar homes in much closer proximity to the ZipTour that at Hidden Valley. To date, and to our knowledge, there have been no issues or complaints involving noise or the increase in activity.

  • Additionally, the National Forest Service (NFS) has decided to include the ZipTour product as one of a select number of outdoor activities they will permit on federal lands. Peak Resorts has worked intimately with the NFS on installing a ZipTour and it has been well received and well accepted by all parties including residents that own homes in very close proximity to the ZipTour.
  1. The Petitioner will be required to meet all the City’s environmental regulations relating to land disturbance, tree preservation, and storm water management.
  • As stated in the “Information Report” the reutilization of the existing improvements constructed on the site will minimize any new disturbance related to this installation.

The next section that will be addressed is in the “Information Report” under the heading “Requirement One- Good Planning Practice.”

  1. The common concerns voiced at the time of the presentation of the concept of a zip line course to other cities have been noise, traffic, and tree removal.
  • With the information provided to the Commission it is felt that these concerns have been addressed on a factual basis.  The sound analysis to address minimal sound, anticipated visitation estimates of roughly 10,000 visits over the course of a 12 month period to address minimal traffic and pictures of the platforms for the ZipTour showing their small footprint to address minimal tree removal.
  1. The process for consideration of zip line courses varies, with some communities not requiring a hearing or plan submittal.
  • Agree
  1. The feedback after installation, has almost exclusively been positive, with comments almost non-existent.
  • Agree
  1. The land use patterns vary, but many were located on a portion of public lands or moreover adjoining large parcels of ground, with limited residential nearby.
  • As referenced above in the “Sundance” example it is important to note that Zip Line courses are prevalent across the ski resort industry as a way to enjoy the beautiful landscape that highlights many resorts.  “Ski in/Ski Out” residential homes are also prevalent at ski resorts abutting directly to ski trails and in very close proximity to Zip Line courses with no trees offering separation at all.  There are numerous examples across the United States.

The next section that will be addressed is in the “Information Report” under the heading “Requirement Two- Impact on Permitted Activities in the NU Non-Urban Residence District.”

  1. The zip line course may not use public address systems or speakers in conjunction with its operation or at any of the eight (8) planned transfer platforms.
  • Hidden Valley is willing to accept this condition out of the desire to minimize sound  associated with operation of the ZipTour.  
  1. The zip line course’s cabling must be coated to address sound associated with its use, if the required analysis determines such is necessary.
  • As stated above the ZipTour manufacturer is unaware of any product used in the industry that “coats” a wire rope.  Additionally, the sound analysis provided addresses sound associated with the ZipTour and would not warrant adjustments made to the design.
  1. The structure and parking setbacks associated with the facility remain unchanged, thereby assuring no new placements of facilities beyond the current, and allowable, building envelope that was first established at this location in the early 1980’s.
  • Agree
  1. The zip line course would have established hours and days of operation – 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (last session must end by 7:30 p.m.) – Monday through Sunday.
  • Based on our operational forecasting for the ZipTour this condition would make the investment into this activity nonviable.  The basis of this condition is questionable and seems completely arbitrary.  As a compromise Hidden Valley is agreeable to not operate the ZipTour during nighttime hours.  Since the length of day fluctuates throughout the year there will be times when the ZipTour closes before the requested timeframe or slightly after however it is critical to the viability of the ZipTour at Hidden Valley to operate according to the length of daylight hours and not specific time requirements.  Hidden Valley requests that the ZipTour be able to operate during any daytime hours only. 
  1. The zip line course would have an established season – April to October.
  • Additionally, this condition also makes the investment into the installation of a ZipTour nonviable based on our operational forecasts.  Once again the basis of this condition is questionable and seems completely arbitrary.  It is overtly burdensome to require a recreational business to not operate one of its recreational activities  when it could have demand for 5 months of the year.  For example, November is one of the most beautiful months of the year when leaves are displaying all of their colors and under this condition guests would not be able ride the ZipTour to experience the landscape during this time.  Hidden Valley is already operational for most of this period with its ski area operations so the small addition of guests desiring to ride the ZipTour is negligible.  It is important to note also that as a result of weather or operational issues there will be numerous days throughout the year that the ZipTour will not operate.  Taking this into account coupled with a 5 month operational restriction clearly makes the investment nonviable.  Hidden Valley requests to operate the ZipTour any day of the year where demand warrants.

The next section that will be addressed is in the “Information Report” under the heading “Requirement Three- Visual Compatibility.”      

  1. The zip line course cannot be lighted for nighttime use.
  • Hidden Valley is willing to accept this condition to prevent creating a nuisance for surrounding residences.
  1. The zip line course cannot be within three hundred seventy (370) feet of the northern property line.
  • As stated above it is Hidden Valley’s understanding that the Commission voted to remove this condition allowing Lines #3 and #4 to remain unchanged from their original engineered design at the Nov.6th meeting.  As conveyed at the meeting the shortening of Lines #3 and #4 make the spans incompatible from a height perspective with the existing infrastructure of the ski area.  We appreciate the Commission’s understanding of this point. It is important to note that all platform locations exceed a 50’ setback from Hidden Valley’s property lines commonly referred to in Wildwood’s zoning regulations.  
  1. The zip line course improvements, including the transfer platforms, towers, and concrete support structures, must be reviewed and acted upon by the City in terms of materials, colors, and design components to ensure compatibility to the surrounding built and natural environments.
  • Hidden Valley is agreeable to this condition and welcomes Wildwood’s input to ensure the ZipTour is compatible to the surrounding built and natural environments.
  1. The zip line courses’ heights must be reviewed and acted upon by the Planning and Zoning Commission, as part of its Site Development Plan process.
  • The ZipTour is designed and engineered taking into account numerous natural, existing built infrastructure and operational factors to ensure viability at each location. 

The next section that will be addressed is in the “Information Report” under the heading “Requirement Four- Public’s Health, Safety, and Welfare.”

  1. To participate in the region is to make it better and, being able to accommodate a zip line use (recreational activity), with no to very limited impacts on the area, is participating in this important role and lends support to this request.
  • Agree
  1. The additional of a new activity area at this existing facility is also intended to improve the overall condition of the property.  The Department of Planning continues to believe this overall facility provides recreational opportunities either not available anywhere else in the region or in short supply in this part of west St. Louis County.  The ski area/zip line course combination is truly unique and the only facility to offer both in the immediate St. Louis area.  Therefore, many residents and visitors are only able to enjoy both of these activities here within the City of Wildwood.  Such a circumstance makes this facility an important component of the recreational landscape and, in the Department’s opinion, essential to the overall public’s health, safety, and general welfare.
  • Agree
  1. The recommendation for personnel along the ZipTour course to be certified in first aid, AED, and CPR to ensure all users are provided a high degree of safety and protection, when utilizing it. 
  • Although the recommendation is appreciated. Hidden Valley has annual operational inspections from its insurance carrier that stipulates best practices to ensure safety of guests that visit the property for any reason.  The ZipTour will receive the same attention and Hidden Valley reserves the right to use these best practices and its expansive industry experience to determine operational directives.

The next section that will be addressed is in the “Information Report” under the heading “Attachment B.”

   There are numerous requirements contained in this section that need to be discussed with the Planning Department to better understand the purpose of them.  Hidden Valley as stated above will operate the ZipTour using best practices and its industry experience to ensure safety.  Additionally, to touch on one particular miscellaneous condition in this section regarding prohibiting the use of motorized vehicles as transport for guests using the ZipTour it is important to point out that this would put guests at risk and in certain circumstances the use of motorized vehicles is critical for safety or to respond to emergencies.  Hidden Valley is confident any of the remaining miscellaneous conditions can be discussed with the Planning Department to remedy any concerns.