Karla Player has seen a lot of changes in the eight years she's lived in Springdale, Utah. Each summer, more than 2 million people pass through this dusty gateway town of 300 on their way to Zion National Park. Most visitors spend just a few hours here, though lately, people are coming to stay.
"You used to go to the post office and see
all your friends and catch up," says Player, who owns a bed and
breakfast and handmade jewelry shop in town. "Now you go to the
post office and you don't even recognize anyone."
Player says she's watched family businesses go
under and long-time residents move away as the frenzied development
of nearby St. George has spread to Springdale. Still, she was not
prepared in July when bulldozers broke ground on a high-end
development on the Rockville Bench, a mesa backed against Zion
National Park between Springdale and the neighboring town of
"I don't think any of us saw it
coming," she says. "(The bench) was one of the few places locals
could go and walk your dog. It was a real pristine, beautiful
The Rockville Bench has been zoned for
houses for years, and the development has been in the works since
1994. So why are Player and her fellow residents
Because town officials had worked for
three years to buy the Rockville Bench, to protect it as open space
and secure the area for its watershed values. What's more, three
men behind the development, all of whom describe themselves as
environmentalists, at first seemed responsive to a conservation
But when the building permits came
through ahead of the conservation money, the deal was off and
bulldozers rolled to the bench.
In 1994, Milo
McCowan, who says he is an "environmental developer," applied for
permits to build on 276 acres of the Rockville Bench, which are
owned by Salt Lake City real estate speculator Richard
That sent Rockville town planner Coby
Jordan in search of alternatives. Over nearly three years, he
pieced together a plan to preserve the bench that won the support
of local residents, county commissioners, Utah Gov. Michael
Leavitt, the Utah state legislature, the Park Service and the
Bureau of Land Management.
Jordan's plan depended
on the Conservation Fund, which offered McCowan $1.75 million for
the property. If the deal went through, the land would be traded to
the BLM and protected as open space.
"It was a
real opportunity for these (developers) to do something higher than
what they're doing," says Jordan.
But the offer
was "two years late and a million and a half short," says McCowan.
The $1.75 million amounted to 15 percent of the land's developed
value, he says, and Jensen wouldn't sell.
the typical beautiful-spot-in-the-West mentality," says McCowan.
"The last guy in the door wants to close the door behind him."
McCowan, who considers among his "close friends'
such outspoken environmentalists as Dave Foreman, Doug Peacock, and
the late Ed Abbey, says he is trying to "merge homes into the
environment." Stucco or stone walls and native landscaping will
disguise the new houses, which will be surrounded by open
The first 18 plots for his 76-unit "Anasazi
Plateau" development should be ready in October. Lots start at
McCowan is also building nine homes on
20 acres adjacent to the bench owned by Gibbs Smith, owner of the
environmental publishing company Peregrine Smith
The third developer, Jim Ruch, a former
board member of both High Country News and the Grand Canyon Trust,
says he bought his land with hopes of selling a few lots to finance
a retirement home. He planned to put a conservation easement on 80
to 90 percent of the property, he says.
he found that Springdale's zoning requirements would make his plan
difficult. "Town codes have easily doubled the price I have to
charge for a lot just to get my money back," he
Ruch says he was open to a conservation
buy-out until a lawsuit over property near the bench from Gibbs
Smith drained his pocketbook. When Milo McCowan broke ground on
Anasazi Plateau, which covers most of the bench, Ruch concluded
conservation was a lost cause.
"To acquire my
land (for open space) without (McCowan's) would be absolutely
stupid," says Ruch. He plans to build five homes on his 46
When McCowan, Smith and Ruch are finished
with the Rockville Bench, the number of buildings in Springdale
will have grown by roughly 40 percent.
Player is furious. "They're not environmentalists," she says.
"They're greedy developers."
consolation, she says, is that Springdale is confined by canyon
walls and the Zion National Park boundary, so "once every square
inch of ground is developed, it'll still be a small town. This
won't become a Park City, but the flavor of the town is slowly
going down the tubes."
Greg Hanscom is HCN's
* Call planner Coby Jordan at his Rockville,
Utah, office, 801/772-3800, or
* Call developer
Milo McCowan at River Realty,