There's peace to be had at the battle of Snowstar. Rock Island County supervisors need only to broker the deal.
The ski hill's General Manager Dan McCanna is looking for consistent revenue. Last year, a mild winter meant lifts ran just 54 days. Even snow-making equipment can't help if temperatures consistently sit well above freezing.
But the region's only slope has more to offer than a steeper grade than what's generally found in the Midwest. The lodge, McCanna rightly reasoned, would make a fine spot for weddings, birthdays and reunions. If that goes well, other year-round attractions, such as zip lines and downhill cycling trails, could follow, he argued.
McCanna isn't reinventing the wheel here.
Climate change, no matter how much some officials try to ignore it, is having real-world effects on business. It's a reality that's already rocking Northeastern and and Rocky Mountain economies. From Vail, Colorado, to Killington, Vermont, the American ski industry is responding similarly to shortened seasons and declining snowpack. The goal is to transform a mountain from a winter attraction to an event center for all seasons — downhill bike races in the summer, leaf peeping in the fall.
Snowstar's relatively diminutive size limits how far McCanna can follow the likes of Whistler or Jackson Hole. But he's wise to look to a scaled-down version.
McCanna's proposal requires a relatively simple, albeit, controversial change. Snowstar is permitted to operate only from December to March under existing zoning. Already, the county's Zoning Board of Appeals has approved his request for year-round operation and sent it to the county board.
As is common in matters of commercial zoning, nearby residents are none too thrilled about the idea.
Their concerns aren't without merit. If successful, McCanna's plan would substantially bolster traffic on Andalusia's 115th Street, a bumpy gravel road dotted with family farms and isolated homes. Residents worry about dust, traffic and the safety of their children. All are reasonable.
But in this case, it's incumbent on the county board's Public Works Committee and Zoning Board to draft a policy that assuages some of the concerns while, ultimately, giving Snowstar a shot at long-term survival.
For instance, the slope could be required to contract with the county or a private firm to water 115th Street before any scheduled event. Or, should it so choose, Snowstar could be permitted to buy a truck and douse the road itself. Limitations on hours would stem neighbors' fears about all-night parties and noise.
Such regulations wouldn't spell doom for Snowstar. On the contrary, they would improve relations along 115th Street, ensure residents get heard and give McCanna a shot at reinforcing Snowstar's financial outlook.
Snowstar deserves that much.