Post Tonopalo, Tahoe Vista projects get cool reception
Deborah Hakam Carson always thought of Tahoe Vista as a sort of Hobbitville.
When she bought a house there 13 years ago, she liked the old cabins and low-key feel of the place. Now, with high-end developments popping up all over town, it’s not so low profile.
“People who have lived here their whole lives can’t afford to live in Tahoe — the development seems to be catered to second homeowners, and it’s pushing out the working-class people,” said Carson, a bus driver for the Truckee Tahoe Unified School District. “It’s not quaint, it’s pretentious and based on greed.”
Since a grass-roots backlash erupted in recent months against the Tonopalo lakeside luxury development, Tahoe Vista residents are leery of projects now in the planning phases. Tonopalo, widely criticized for removing a unique sand dune, has become representative of the kind of out-of-towner, big-money development locals would rather avoid. And since that project seemed to slip through the cracks of county and community scrutiny, officials are encouraging locals to get involved at the beginning of projects by attending public meetings on proposals.
“If people have issues, we need to hear them,” said Placer County Senior Planner Alan Breuch. “The public really needs to be involved in the planning process.”
Steve Kastan, deputy field advisor for Supervisor Rex Bloomfield, said, “I think communities can have a significant impact (on projects) — Tonopalo raised awareness, and now people know what can happen.”
Among the projects now in the planning phases are 86 lakeside time-shares proposed by the Tahoe Sands Resort, 110 units of affordable housing near the Tahoe Vista Regional Park, and 32 additional hotel units proposed by the Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort on the north side of Highway 28.
Placer County Principal Planner Bill Combs said applications have been turned in for the Tahoe Sand time-shares and the Mourelatos additions, and both projects are in the environmental review stage.
Community members are concerned meetings are not well publicized, though Kastan said he sends notices via e-mail to 50 people, notifies landowners within 400 feet of the proposed project as required by law and posts meetings in newspapers.
“We have to demand advance notification of every project and when they’ll happen,” said Gary Vandewiele, the Tahoe Vista man responsible for raising questions about the Tonopalo project. “These developers are really smart. They know how to work a local population, and they’re working us big time.”
If anything comes out of his efforts to get the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the county to disclose why Tonopalo was allowed to “remove” an aeolian sand dune, Vandewiele said it should be increased public access to the development process.
Patrick Stone, 14-year Tahoe Vista resident and member of the North Tahoe Business Association, said last month that this is the time for community members to get involved.
“The average person doesn’t pay attention until the buildings are going up, and if they don’t start paying attention, it will be approved and done before they have input,” he said.
Placer’s Combs pointed out that Tonopalo went through the standard public input process, and said, “the public is welcome to come to express comments at the NTRAC and Planning Commission meetings, and we encourage them to do so.”
The community’s bent on luxury time-shares is a bit different from its take on affordable housing. Many people support adding low-income housing because so many workers are forced to commute from afar or live in poor conditions. However, criticism surrounding the 110 units to be built on 12 acres off National Avenue is based on the concern that developments are being built without the necessary infrastructure to support them.
“Obviously, we need low-income and employee housing, but we’re in such a rush to address employee housing, we haven’t addressed other issues like stores, day care and parking,” Stone said. “That’s over 500 people in an area with very little infrastructure.”
Bill Span, consultant to the Affordable Housing Development Corporation, said the application for the 110 two-, three- and four-bedroom affordable housing units was submitted to the county last week. He said a number of public meeting will be held, and he expects the planning phase will take about a year.
Karen Van Epps, a Truckee Tahoe Unified School Board member who lives in Tahoe Vista, said in light of the massive Martis Valley Plan, North Shore developments should be discussed together as one integrated development plan, as the impact of more cars and people cannot be limited to one area.
Officials say these concerns will be addressed at the public meetings held as the planning phase progresses. Preliminary meetings have been held to address the Tahoe Sands 86-unit proposal, but it has not yet been presented to NTRAC, said Kastan.
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