Trees today, gondola tomorrow |

Trees today, gondola tomorrow

A thin strip of clearing in the pine and fir forests on the hillside south of the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project is the first visible sign of Heavenly Ski Resort’s gondola project.

A 138-car gondola, scheduled to be built this spring, is part of the city of South Lake Tahoe’s plan to eliminate blight along U.S. Highway 50 near the state line and Park Avenue. Project plans call for the demolition of 39 businesses in April to make way for construction of a quarter-share hotel, movie theaters, retail shops, restaurants and an ice rink.

Heavenly’s gondola, which sits in the center of the project, will have the capacity to shuttle 2,800 passengers per hour from the new development to the resort’s slopes at the top of the ridge.

The skinny swathe of clearing between the development site and ridgeline was cut in October in preparation for construction, said Andrew Strain, Heavenly’s director of planning.

“What you can see is a one-tree-wide survey line on National Forest land so the engineers could get the exact tower sites,” Strain said. “We haven’t cut any trees on private property.”

The clearing stops short of the city limits, where three sections of private property – the Forest Inn, three plots owned by the Van Sickle Trust and a Caltrans right of way – stand in the gondola’s path.

Before Heavenly can break ground, aerial easements must be granted.

Judith Von Klug, the city’s redevelopment manager, said offers for the easements are scheduled to go out to the property owners next week.

“At this point, we have talked to all of the property owners for the easement and they are aware of the offer that’s going to be coming to them,” Von Klug said. “It’s an easement much like a water or sewer line across someone’s property.”

Von Klug said a particular appraisal formula is used in aerial right of way that takes into account a percentage of the value of the property and the ground area that is needed where the gondola towers will be built. The amount of the appraisal could not be disclosed, but Von Klug said payment will ultimately come from Heavenly.

If the offers fail, eminent domain may be used to force the agreement.

Because the property is outside of the city limits, the process would originate in El Dorado County.

“We’ve entered a joint powers agreement with the county, going back to 1996, to pursue these acquisitions,” Von Klug said. “But the risk is that you can’t delegate a vote (by the county supervisors) on the necessity for eminent domain.”

Aside from the easements, Strain said the gondola project is on schedule with all the necessary building permits in place.

“They’re manufacturing the lift right now,” he said. “The alignment is fixed at the top station, the mid-station and the bottom station. We hope to have the lift running by December 2000.”

Strain said Heavenly designed the lift with the goal of causing the least amount of visual and environmental impact.

“It’s a custom lift,” he said. “We’ve kept a low-profile line, not above the tree line. We’ve colored the cabins (olive green) so they blend in with the landscape, the towers will be painted a gray-green color that the National Forest Service has approved and the cross arms on the towers have been dulled to remove the reflective galvanized finish.”

When it’s finished, the clearing of trees will be slightly more than 5.5 meters wide. Strain said low-lying vegetation will be planted under the lift so that the break in the treeline will be less noticeable from afar.

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