By Christopher Solomon
High Country News
As introductions to the community go, the Mt. Holly Club’s was
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.