Dead deal? Doolittle blocks sale of resort to Forest Service
A potential U.S. Forest Service purchase of more than 1,000 acres of land at Lake Tahoe’s Homewood Mountain Resort may be scuttled.
Homewood resort, which has been in closed-door property negotiations with the Forest Service for years, was getting closer to completing the sale. But a move by Rep. John Doolittle that blocks money for the purchase likely means the deal is dead.
The Forest Service was earnest about the transaction and had recently requested between $60 million and $65 million funding for the acquisition in their 2007 budget. The proposal would have left much of the resort in public hands, while a sliver of property near Highway 89 would remain private and available for commercial development.
“Our primary interest is in resource protection,” said Rex Norman, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service in the Tahoe Basin. “By our acquisition we can see that development will not result in any soil damage, water damage …”
But Doolittle, R-Roseville, whose district covers the Tahoe Basin, added a provision into a recent federal spending bill that will block any funding for the purchase of the land on Tahoe’s west shore. The bill has passed the House of Representatives, but has yet to pass the Senate.
The reason for Doolittle’s addition is to protect federal tax dollars, said Brian Jensen, director of Doolittle’s district office.
“If you are taking the same piece of property and using it for the same purpose without changing the use, how is that benefiting the environment?” Jensen asked.
He said the owners of the ski resort met with Doolittle twice over the last year, but never were able to explain how the use of federal funds for the purchase would benefit taxpayers.
“With the lack of better answers, the congressman thought this was an unwise use of federal money,” Jensen said.
If someone makes the case that without the federal purchase, the ski resort will be closed and the land used for homes, Doolittle may consider changing his position, said Jensen.
“It is not law,” he said of the federal spending bill for the Department of the Interior.
The owners of the struggling ski resort have indicated that if the Forest Service purchase falls through, they may look for other buyers. The land has the potential to be developed for homes, Norman said.
“If another player was to come in and say, ‘I will pay you $20 million more,’ there is nothing that would keep that from happening,” Norman said.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has backed the Forest Service’s attempt to buy the property, said spokeswoman Julie Regan.
“In terms of the viewshed and the scenic resource, it is very important,” Regan said of the Homewood land.
A Forest Service purchase would add property to public lands in the area. Around Lake Tahoe’s shoreline, private individuals control greater than 55 percent of the land, Regan said.
On the West Shore of Tahoe, where many residents love the laid-back ambiance and absence of vast commercial development at Homewood Mountain Resort, news that a Forest Service buyout could be killed in favor of selling the land to developers drew a harsh response from locals.
Liz Hanly, a Tahoma Resident who has been skiing and hiking Homewood for 18 years, said the possible subdivision and development of the property would be a tragedy.
“We as a community can not allow it to be divided into real estate property,” Hanly said in an e-mail. “It needs to be kept open for all of us to enjoy.
“One of my greatest fears is that the owners would sell it to a big developer who would devastate that part of our West Shore.”
Homewood resident Ann Bryant, who was assured last year that the property would be bought by the Forest Service, was shocked to hear the federal purchase could fall through and private developers could buy the land.
“To lose the ski area would be horrible, devastating to (those) who have skied there for 20, 30, 40 years,” said Bryant. “Mark me down as opposed to anything but the Forest Service taking it.”
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