Homewood lawsuit: Court rejects request for Shorezone judge | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Homewood lawsuit: Court rejects request for Shorezone judge

Kevin MacMillan
Sierra Sun

HOMEWOOD, Calif. – A federal judge recently denied a request from local conservation groups that the same judge who ruled on the 2010 Shorezone plan also preside over the lawsuit challenging the multimillion-dollar Homewood Resort redevelopment.

The group Earthjustice – representing the Friends of the West Shore and Tahoe Area Sierra Club – filed the suit on Jan. 5 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern California against the Homewood Mountain Ski Area Master Plan, naming the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, JMA Ventures (the San Francisco-based company that owns Homewood) and Placer County as defendants.

Within the suit, the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore argued that Homewood was related to a September 2010 TRPA Shorezone case heard by Eastern District Federal Judge Lawrence Karlton – who ruled in favor of the Sierra Club and League to Save Lake Tahoe – and requested the Homewood matter be moved to his court, rather than the randomly assigned judge, William Shubb.

On Jan. 30, 2012, a ruling filed by Karlton rejected the request, saying there are different laws involved, and that the Shorezone and Homewood cases involve different development plans and different amendments to the Regional Plan.

TRPA officials on Friday praised the ruling, saying in a long press release that the bi-state governing agency received a “positive ruling.”

In a Friday phone interview, Sierra Club spokeswoman Laurel Ames said the ruling was a non-issue.

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“We thought it made sense to request a judge who had dealt with (TRPA) could deal with it again,” Ames said. “All it does is lengthen the process, for a judge not familiar (with TRPA) to have to start over.”

Despite the Jan. 30 ruling, the guts of the lawsuit remain intact, and it’s unclear when a ruling will be offered.

On Dec. 14, 2011, the TRPA Governing Board unanimously approved the Homewood 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.

After filing their suit, the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore 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, and doesn’t 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, in a previous Sierra Sun story. “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.”

David Tirman, executive vice president of JMA, issued a statement in response to the lawsuit on Jan. 6.

“We were disappointed but not necessarily surprised by the appeal…” he told the Sierra Sun. “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.

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.