All four members of the Springdale Town Council and the mayor voted Wednesday evening to approve building a controversial large-screen theater and 12,000-square foot shopping complex on the doorsteps of Zion National Park.
The proposal by Odyssey Inc. of Los Altos, Calif., was given a conditional-use permit, but the city retains control over architectural aspects, said Mayor Robert E. Ralston. "Before anything can actually be built, they have to come back in," to have the details approved, he said.A firestorm of controversy greeted the plans, with 19 members of the U.S. House of Representatives Interior Committee petitioning for another location. Hundreds of visitors to Zion objected to what they saw as a prelude to strip development that could cheapen the park experience.
"My answer to all of this is one thing: the park is the park and the town is the town," Ralston said.
"They have developed a campground across from our town 40 years ago, without any foresight apparently. Now we feel as though there was a war in Kuwait not long ago, and that was because outsiders stepped in and tried to tell them what to do.
"We feel as though Terri Martin and the others are a bunch of outsiders trying to tell us what to do with our town. And we're not going to ruin the park and we're not going to ruin our town."
Martin, the regional representative of the National Parks and Conservation Association, said the project is like others proposed around the country.
"This decision underscores the fact that boundary lines don't protect parks and visitor experience in parks and points up the need for new authority that gives the Park Service and the public a stronger say on what happens on those very sensitive areas that surround the park," she said.
Speaking by telephone from southern Utah, where she had gone to speak before the Springdale Council, she said she doesn't advocate buffer zones around the parks. But everybody can see that certain areas outside parks are particularly sensitive, she said.
"People come here to see the park. They don't come here to see a movie, they don't come here to see a theater building or a hotel or a parking lot, or parking lot lighting. And those are the things that will intrude on the experience," Martin said.
Ralston said the hotel no longer is part of the plans. He said the theater will be hidden from the entrance highway by a high hill and berms. The construction will prevent it from rising more than a few feet above the earlier zoning ordinance limit.