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Plans for Oly rings drawing concerns

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The five Olympic rings, glowing on a Wasatch mountainside above the Avenues: That's the image to perfectly symbolize the 2002 host city, says Mayor Rocky Anderson. This week he and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee met to plan how to raise those rings — and ran into at least one horrified City Council member.

The Olympic rings — each is 160 feet in diameter — would be spread across the foothill above Terrace Hills Drive and Tomahawk Drive, at an elevation of about 5,500 feet above sea level. "We should show off our mountains," said the mayor. "The visual effect is a huge part of presenting our city to the world."

The Wasatch range, blanketed in snow and bedecked with rings, will make the kind of impression Sydney's Harbor Bridge made during the 2000 Summer Games, he added.

Thursday night Anderson asked the City Council to grant him the power to green-light the rings — and other so-called "temporary uses of city property" at Games time — without having to go through the typical public-hearing process. There isn't time, Planning Director Stephen Goldsmith said, for hearings and discussions, and the council has a habit of spending several weeks on those. If the usual process is used, Goldsmith added, "we'll be in May, and the snow will be gone."

That didn't go over well.

"I'm willing to expedite the process . . . but I'm not willing to relinquish my authority as a councilman," said Carlton Christensen, speaking for the panel.

And even if time is short and the Olympics are nearly upon us, the council insists on being "in the loop . . . instead of the mayor acting alone," said vice chairman Dave Buhler. "We think he'd like some company," he joked.

SLOC officials would not say how much the rings cost. SLOC's Roger Black said a decision on purchasing materials for the rings and surveying the mountainside site must be made by mid-October. The council then scheduled a public hearing on Oct. 9.

But it's not necessarily the rings they will discuss that night. First they will revisit the question of whether the mayor should be able to overrule the city's zoning laws during the Olympic setup and teardown period, December through April.

Anderson "needs the ability to decide in a very short period of time on land use" during the Games, Goldsmith said. Parking lots and other city property may have to be used as staging areas, he added, and the mayor needs to be in the driver's seat.

The council isn't handing over any keys to the city, however. And a seething Tom Rogan, the councilman long disgusted by most things Olympic, vaulted to a new height of disgust Thursday night.

When he learned that the Olympic rings could be shining down on his council district come February, he said, "The Avenues Community Council has worked so hard for so many years to protect our foothills . . . why don't we show some respect for the people?"

The rings won't permanently affect the mountainside, promised city Olympic planner John Sittner. "A piece of conduit will be driven into the ground, and the light fixtures will be screwed onto the top of that."

The city property is much simpler to use, he added. "If it's on federal land, there's a very extensive environmental impact statement that would be needed." And "we just found out a few weeks ago that there was funding (from SLOC) to do this."

The council decided to hold an additional public hearing on the rings issue but didn't set a date. Having first heard of the rings possibility on Tuesday, they seemed blindsided.

But Councilman Keith Christensen, who is as enthused about the Olympics as Rogan is fed up with them, said, "We're not going to be asked to put any money in" to install the rings, "which is something I like about it."

E-MAIL: durbani@desnews.com