HOMEWOOD, Calif. — Saying they had no other choice but to protect Lake Tahoe and preserve the communities that surround it, a pair of regional conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the recently adopted Homewood Mountain Resort renovation.
The group Earthjustice — representing the Friends of the West Shore and Tahoe Area Sierra Club — filed the suit in the U.S. District Court of Eastern California, naming the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, JMA Ventures (the San Francisco-based company that owns Homewood) and Placer County as defendants.
“Lake Tahoe is a national treasure that must be protected for future generations,” the groups said in a joint statement Thursday. “The Tahoe Area Sierra Club and the Friends of the West Shore regret that legal action is the only alternative now.”
On Dec. 14, 2011, the TRPA Governing Board unanimously approved the Homewood Mountain Resort Ski Area Master Plan. The $500 million project includes construction of a 5-star hotel with up to 75 rooms, 56 residential condominiums, 47 multi-family condominiums, 48 ski-in ski-out chalets, 16 townhomes, 13 workforce housing apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space, along with an additional 40 individually owned condos and 30 individually owned penthouse units.
The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore on Thursday referred to the project as “a wall-to-wall mass of buildings that climb 77 feet up the face of the Homewood ski slope” that doesn’t fit with the community, nor does it protect the lake.
“We want a revitalized Homewood Ski Area, but the current project is simply too large,” said Mason Overstreet, conservation director of Friends of the West Shore. “A smaller resort in scale with the surrounding community would still bring in hundreds of jobs for residents and millions of dollars in revenue to the local area.”
On Friday afternoon, David Tirman, executive vice president of JMA, issued a statement in response to the lawsuit.
“We were disappointed but not necessarily surprised by the appeal...” he said. “Five public hearings were held on the project, all of which resulted in unanimous votes of approval of the master plan. The project is considered to be among the most progressive and wide ranging environmental initiatives attempted in the Lake Tahoe basin.”
According to the suit, the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore seek an order vacating the Homewood Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Study prepared jointly by TRPA and Placer County, and its accompanying findings, certifications and approvals. The environmental study and plan for the Homewood project took approximately four years to complete.
“It’s unfortunate that this lawsuit could divide the community at a time when we need to work together more than ever,” said Joanne S. Marchetta, TRPA’s executive director, in a statement late Thursday. “TRPA continues to believe that lawsuits are not the best path to sustainability in the Tahoe Basin.”
According to the lawsuit, the project violates numerous environmental and community development standards; the plaintiffs argue Placer County and TRPA ignored and/or changed existing rules to accommodate those issues.
The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore also argue that despite meeting over the past two years with JMA Ventures, project proponents and representatives of the agencies, few issues were resolved, including concerns of traffic congestion, air and water impacts, scenic and noise impacts and “the tsunami of condos and hotel rooms.”
“We had no choice. We met with them to no avail,” said Laurel Ames, conservation co-chair of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club. “It was protect the lake and the basin and the community, or stand by and watch the damage erupt.”
Tirman said the project is aimed at keeping the iconic, 50-year-old ski resort open, and JMA followed a multi-year public review process to the best of its ability.
“We actually made numerous attempts to engage the project appellants in meaningful discussions about the project, but to our frustration those initiatives went largely unanswered,” he said. “The environmental impact report, which is over 2,000 pages long, cost in excess of $1 million to research and prepare. For the appellants to state that the Master Plan was inadequately prepared and reviewed is an unfortunate distortion of the facts.”