Martis Valley litigation dismissed |

Martis Valley litigation dismissed

David Bunker

TRUCKEE – One of California’s most contentious and high-profile land disputes has been resolved.

For the first time in nearly three years, there are no pending lawsuits over development in the Martis Valley.

Following a series of compromises with individual Martis Valley developers over the last two years, the courts dismissed litigation over Placer County’s plan for development in the valley on Sept. 6. The plan was sued by conservationists in January of 2004.

Conservationists walked away with fewer homes, golf courses and shops and an estimated $100 million for conservation and workforce housing over the next 25 years, under the series of agreements.

Developers are able to construct their luxury home and golf course plans without the uncertainty of looming lawsuits or continued and costly delays.

And Placer County’s plan – blasted by the California Attorney General, the judge handling the litigation and the Town of Truckee – will not be overturned or reworked.

“This resolution finally creates peace in the valley, and with that I think we can see (everyone) start working in collaboration,” said Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, which is working to preserve land in the valley with money generated through real estate transfer fee agreements. “Essentially you will see former adversaries working in collaboration.”

The Martis Valley will still have its gated communities and exclusive golf courses, but conservationists scored victories in reducing the size of development and setting up a funding source that will finance conservation projects in the area forever.

“I think that certainly these settlements are always compromises, compromises on both sides,” said Stefanie Olivieri, president of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, which was one of the main partners in the litigation and ensuing negotiations.

Placer County attorney Rick Crabtree said the county is pleased to not have to rework the Martis Valley Community Plan or continue with the appeals filed after a judge decided the plan violated state environmental law.

“This gives the residents of the Martis Valley and the property owners certainty about what the community plan is,” Crabtree said.

The $100 million projected to come from a percentage of each home sale in the valley over the next 25 years will also fund the creation of affordable housing, a hot-button issue in the Martis Valley debate that caused the Town of Truckee to oppose Placer County’s plans.

That money will continue to flow as long as homes are bought and sold in the Martis Valley and projects in Northstar-at-Tahoe. That steady stream of money for will assist in tackling the pressing issues of the region.

“It helps every aspect of the work of the non-profits,” Olivieri said.

Conservationists are still working on preserving land on the east side of Highway 267, the undeveloped portion of the valley that includes land holdings by timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries and the Pritzker family, owners of the Hyatt hotel chain.

For the Truckee Donner Land Trust, which relies on donations, partnerships and grants, the transfer fee funding means a more robust preservation program.

“We will take on larger, more complex, more expensive and more immediately threatened land from development,” Norris said.

A conservation strategy

Conservationists long held that the Martis Valley Community Plan was not a valid blueprint for the valley. So in absence of a Placer County plan that the groups felt struck a compromise between development and land preservation, the conservation groups executed their own strategy with a quiet efficiency.

By brokering real estate transfer fee agreements, usually a percentage of each home sale, with developers in the valley, Sierra Watch, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation and their allies are amassing a pot of money that can be used by the Truckee Donner Land Trust to purchase land that they feel should be preserved for wildlife habitat, recreation and open space.

Even as the conservationists’ plan materializes, the strategy in its entirety also illustrates the amount of work left to accomplish for the Martis Valley 20, 50 and 100 years from now.

Preserving portions of Siller Ranch and Hopkins Ranch property, as well as the nearly 8,000 acres on the eastern side of the Martis Valley, presents a huge challenge to the nonprofits.

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