North Tahoe Casino redevelopers seeks public opinion
November 12, 2009
CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. – The Boulder Bay draft environmental impact study is a 1,589-page document of summaries, conclusions, graphs, drafts and matrices that try to predict how the proposed Crystal Bay development could affect people who live and work there.
At the heart of the jargon and graphs, the redevelopment plan for the Tahoe Biltmore and Tahoe Mariner sites signifies a change in planning for the Lake Tahoe Basin, proponents, critics and regulators said.
“It’s a bellwether project,” said Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Spokesman Dennis Oliver. “It’s a test for Tahoe. A test of can we do this? What will this lake look like in 20 years?”
One of the project’s key critics, North Tahoe Preservation Alliance President Ann Nichols, said the proposed resort and casino is a predicator of what type of development TRPA’s proposed Regional Plan could produce.
“This is a demonstration program for the Regional Plan,” she said. “This is what they want all over the place.”
The developer’s preferred project, a 300-room hotel with a 10,000 square-foot casino, 59 whole-ownership units, a spa and other amenities that promises significant water quality benefits, shows what kind of development can happen in the basin under different regulations, said Project Manager Brian Helm.
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“If you just follow current code, it’s more about how to push pause and not make things worse,” Helm said. “(Our preferred alternatives) are more about how do we become part of the solution.”
Boulder Bay is the first of nine Community Enhancement Program projects to complete its Environmental Impact Study and begin a public comment period.
The enhancement program is designed to encourage development that creates environmental improvements, enhances quality of life, improves the visitor experience and contributes to the long-term economic vitality of the region.
Projects that are part of the CEP are eligible for additional commodities such as commercial floor area, tourist accommodation units and height allowances.
As part of the CEP, Boulder Bay is required to attain certain environmental gains to be eligible for those commodities.
Its consideration comes at the same time TRPA is continuing to look at an update to its regional plan.
While other large scale projects that would require an EIS have been put on hold until completion of the Regional Plan’s update, Boulder Bay is moving through the process as an example of what future projects could look like, according to future Regional Plan Guidelines, Oliver said.
Of the five alternatives presented in the Draft EIS released last week, two are CEP-eligible options. The other three are changes to the property that would either not require TRPA permits or would not require code changes.
• Alternative A: A no-project alternative, where conditions at the Tahoe Biltmore would remain the same, save implementing Best Management Practices on the site.
• Alternative B: A no-project alternative that converts the hotel’s existing 92 rooms into timeshares, to be sold at 1-week increments. The casino would be enlarged to 29,744 square feet, the maximum allowed by the Nevada TRPA.
• Alternatives C and D are the CEP-eligible options. Both involve a complete tear-down of the existing infrastructure. Alternative C has less units, less commercial square feet and fewer parking spaces than Alternative D. Alternative C also does not include timeshare units and instead has whole-ownership condominiums. Alternative C is the preferred project, according to the EIS, and Boulder Bay’s preferred alternative.
• Alternative E: A no-project alternative that exemplifies what Boulder Bay could build under current TRPA regulations without asking for any additional commodities or code changes.
The environmental benefits are only summarized for two alternatives – C and D. The other alternatives were not summarized in a similar fashion because they did not provide environmental benefits over and above what the project is required to do, said Rob Brueck, with Hauge Brueck Associates, the company that prepared the EIS.
According to the EIS, a main benefit for Alternatives C and D relates to water quality. In both instances, Boulder Bay would implement a water quality improvement plan that includes nine infiltration galleries, four detention basins, five infiltration trenches, bioretention systems and storm water treatment vaults.
The result could be a 90 percent reduction in total suspended sediment annual load and a 90 percent reduction in fine sediment annual load that makes it way into Lake Tahoe. Currently, about 34,350 pounds of suspended sediment come off the Boulder Bay site each year.
Alternatives C and D also include the construction of a $1.4 million water treatment facility off the property.
The release of the Boulder Bay Draft EIS sets off a period of public comment to last until Jan. 5, 2010. During this time, TRPA will hold public meetings where people can add their comments and questions to the discussion.
Already some of the project’s critics are questioning the traffic that could result from the redevelopment.
The Draft EIS concludes that the project’s preferred option – alternative C – would generate 3,415 external trips daily. Currently, the Tahoe Biltmore generates 5,581 trips daily.
That trip reduction is achieved by providing more alternative forms of transportation, like buses, bikes and trolleys and by making the project pedestrian friendly, Helm said. By including a mix of uses on the site, like restaurants, gaming, entertainment and a spa, the resort can keep visitors on site and out of their cars, he added.
However, Nichols questioned how accurate the estimates are if people other than hotel guests will be using the amenities.
“This project was sold as being a benefit to the community,” Nichols said.
Another concern Nichols has regards a height amendment Boulder Bay would need to build alternatives B or C. The allowed height for the Tahoe Biltmore site is 33 feet, 8 inches, according to TRPA code. However, the current building, constructed in 1946 – and therefore grandfathered prior to TRPA’s height code – is 76 feet, 2 inches. The proposed largest building on Alternative C is 75 inches. To build to that height, Boulder Bay would have to receive an amendment to TRPA code.
The proposed amendment in Alternative C specifies the Boulder Bay site as the area where additional height would be allowed. Still, Nichols said she is concerned for the precedent it could set for the Crystal Bay area.
Oliver said TRPA would not be interested in approving a carte-blanche approval for height exceptions in the Crystal Bay area.
“We’re not going to build Sears Tower in Tahoe,” he said.