Concerns grow over proposed North Tahoe development
KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Some residents and conservation groups are concerned a proposal to rezone a large swath of Sierra land could set a dangerous precedent that leads to future sprawl within the Lake Tahoe Basin by way of trading land outside of it for conservation.
“We’ve got to think big picture,” Ann Nichols, president of the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, said at an Oct. 16 meeting on the Martis Valley West Parcel Project. “The precedent now will be any time you save something outside the basin, you get to develop inside the basin. When will this end? We feel the beginning of the end unless there are some standards put in place.”
Nichols was one of five panel speakers who spoke to project concerns related to the Tahoe Basin at the NTPA-hosted meeting, which drew a crowd of roughly 70 people.
Of the 1,192-acre west parcel located between Highway 267 and Northstar California in the Martis Valley, 775 acres are identified for potential future development, according to the project.
The concerns Nichols and others share is that the 775 acres — 112 of which are in the Tahoe Basin — could be rezoned “residential and neighborhood commercial.”
“Potentially one mile of scenic Tahoe Basin ridge line may be replaced by luxury homes — that’s the bottom line we’re looking at here,” said Derrek Aaron, of Incline Village, another speaker at the Oct. 16 meeting. “… The shorelines are already fully spoken for, so does that mean we consider (ridge lines) the next most desirable area for development? The ridge lines should be untouchable. A sacred place, if you will, to be enjoyed by all.”
The proposal, however, is pursuing the last available “resort recreation designation” for the 112-acre parcel as allowed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said Blake Riva, senior partner with the developer, East West Partners.
“TRPA has very specific criteria which must be satisfied for this designation,” he said. “Preliminary studies indicate there are only a few sites in the entire basin that could potentially qualify for such a designation.
“At this time, (this project) is the only candidate requesting this designation. By definition, there can be no precedent set as the rules to be followed by TRPA are very clear as to what may occur in the basin going forward.”
TRADING OPEN SPACE FOR DEVELOPMENT
The swap is part of a land conservation agreement finalized last fall by East West Partners; landowner Sierra Pacific Industries; and conservation groups Sierra Watch and Mountain Area Preservation.
In exchange for development on the west parcel, 6,376 acres of land in Martis Valley would become permanent open space.
The deal would create more than 50,000 continuous acres of open space in the valley, ranging from its floor to the Mt. Rose Wilderness Area.
While residents and conservation groups applaud more open space, they say many questions need to be addressed regarding East West’s plans, particularly with the Lake Tahoe portion that proposes developing 112 units.
“What we don’t know right now is the source of those 112 units, and most importantly, what the total square footage or acreage, if you will, of these source units,” Aaron said. “Will they be anywhere near the 30 acres of proposed disturbed land for the Martis Valley West project?”
Of the 112 acres in the basin, 85 are projected for development between Northstar and the Fiberboard Freeway. The units East West proposes on that property would be part of a cluster development over a coverage area of about 30 acres.
“Also extremely important is where these units are coming from,” said Jennifer Quashick, with Friends of the West Shore, another speaker on Oct. 16. “It’s areas that already have roads — they already have the infrastructure, the power lines, the sewer lines, so again, it’s not an even trade because obviously the ridge line doesn’t have any of that; it has forest.”
Riva said the proposed 112 basin units would result in environmental gains for Tahoe because any new units require removal of the same number of existing “subpar” units in the basin.
Yet residents at the meeting raised concerns about visual impacts to the ridge line due to the installation of buildings, lighting and other infrastructure.
Several visual impact studies are being prepared as part of the environmental documentation process, Riva said.
“Given the contours, topography and mature forest in the area, the project will be screened from view from surrounding areas,” he added.
HAPPENING TOO QUICKLY?
Early next year — likely in January — Placer County will release a draft Environmental Impact Report on the proposal, while TRPA will release a draft Environmental Impact Statement, providing “definitive answers” to questions raised by the public, Riva said.
“How did it even get this far?” Tahoe Vista resident Leah Kaufman asked at the meeting. “… I don’t understand why the county or the TRPA is even entertaining it.”
Quashick added: “This plan is being pushed forward very quickly. … When these things are on a fast track like this, obviously, a lot of things get left out — public gets left out, environmental analysis is not completed — so we’re concerned.”
While Riva appreciates concerns, he said the Martis Valley West Parcel Project reflects more than eight years of collaboration with “a diverse group of stakeholders.”
“It took us eight years to essentially get to the starting line, and we know in the coming weeks, months and probably years, there will be a lot of discussion about this, but, again, we think we have probably a once in a lifetime opportunity here,” he said in a September project presentation.
The public comment period; preparation and release of the final EIR and EIS; and review and vote by TRPA and Placer County, is potentially an 18- to 24-month process.
Another website opposing the project — savetahoeforests.com — has been created. The group Save Tahoe Forests, according to the site, incudes volunteers from North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, Friends of the West Shore, Tahoe Area Sierra Club and North Tahoe Citizens Action Alliance.