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Unlikely Shangri-La, Part II

Winning over the residents of Beaver


By Christopher Solomon

High Country News

As introductions to the community go, the Mt. Holly Club’s was a disaster.

The overflow crowd packed the public hall on Sept. 20, 2006. Word had spread that someone had big plans for Elk Meadows, and everyone wanted to hear about it. The first item on the Planning and Zoning Commission’s docket was a proposal by the Circle Four hog farm to build barns to hold 42,000 more swine. It aroused little comment. Then Craig Burton, a member of the Mt. Holly Club team who had more development experience than the Jenson brothers, introduced himself and his colleagues. They all wore suits. It was the last time they would make that mistake.

First, the developer showed a video: A private jet landed amid the sage at the county’s municipal airport. The video’s narrator asked the crowd to imagine their own private jet swooping into town — just a 22-minute flight from Las Vegas. The narrator asked them to imagine their driver chauffeuring them to a private refuge nestled among the peaks, with their mountain home already stocked with every possible amenity by a private concierge. Meanwhile, the voice continued, their private fly-fishing guide had already matched the hatch and tied the appropriate fly to their rod for the afternoon’s fishing. A moose appeared onscreen. A moose! The crowd laughed: There are no moose in Beaver County. The Golden Bear appeared, too — Jack Nicklaus — standing at Elk Meadows, squinting at maps as he envisioned what would be the highest 18-hole golf course in North America. The soundtrack to the video: Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

The video concluded, and Burton laid out the developers’ proposal for a $3.5 billion project — seven times the assessed value of all of Beaver County today — spread across mountainside and alpine meadows. Many in the room, however, wanted to hear what came next. Over the years some 130 condos and cabins had sprouted next to the ski slopes, along with about 200 undeveloped lots — most of them owned by people from Salt Lake City, or Las Vegas residents who liked to ski or escape summer’s heat. According to several people who attended the meeting, Burton waited until after the video to drop his bombshell: those owners could either sell to the Mt. Holly Club at fair market value, apply the value of their property toward a club membership, or trade their condo toward a piece of property outside the boundaries of the new club. The message was clear: The developers expected them to buy in, or sell out.