Lawsuit settled over expansion of Tahoe’s Homewood resort
February 5, 2014
HOMEWOOD, Calif. — After years of public meetings, environmental debates and legal maneuvers, Lake Tahoe developers expect to break ground next spring on a scaled-down renovation to Homewood Mountain Resort.
Resort owner JMA Ventures reached a settlement Thursday with the Friends of the West Shore and Tahoe Area Sierra Club, a year after a federal judge halted the project by ruling that its environmental impact statement needed revision.
The settlement calls for a reduction of 13 housing units — seven from the project's North Base, and six from the south, to be chosen by Homewood. The project's overall square footage remains the same, JMA Ventures founder Art Chapman said Friday, and no proposed building heights will be decreased.
"We'll have 13 fewer units, but the same square footage … which in theory will reduce traffic," Chapman said. "We've been very candid with everyone about the economics of Homewood, and we needed a certain size — we couldn't compromise on the square footage."
The original $500 million Homewood plan included a 5-star hotel with up to 75 rooms, 56 residential condominiums, 47 multi-family condominiums, 48 ski-in ski-out chalets, 16 townhomes, 13 workforce housing apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space, along with an additional 40 individually owned condos and 30 individually owned penthouse units.
The revamped proposal is being developed and still requires approval from the Placer County Board of Supervisors and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board, something Chapman hopes occurs "within the next 60 days."
As part of the settlement, JMA also must monitor traffic patterns for a minimum of 20 years, with a focus on main entrances from Highway 89, and publish an annual traffic monitoring report that includes vehicle trips vs. other modes of transportation.
Among other compromises, JMA agreed to put certain parcels of land off-limits to development, and to prohibit tennis courts, tennis clubs, ice rinks, roller coasters and athletic fields on the mountain.
"The modified project will have a smaller impact on Lake Tahoe, which has already suffered so much from runaway development," Wendy Park, an attorney with Earthjustice, said Friday. "Any construction project this close to the shores of Lake Tahoe must be considered carefully and all environmental impacts examined closely."
Earthjustice, a public interest law firm, represented the Friends of the West Shore and Tahoe Area Sierra Club in their Jan. 5, 2012, federal lawsuit that named TRPA, JMA Ventures and Placer County as defendants.
The plaintiffs referred to the project as "a wall-to-wall mass of buildings that climb 77 feet up the face of the Homewood ski slope" that doesn't fit with the community, and doesn't protect the lake, according to previous reports.
A Jan. 4, 2013, order from U.S. District Court Judge William B. Shubb put the project on hold when he ruled that Placer County and TRPA improperly analyzed the possibility JMA could have proposed a smaller project upon eventually approving the plan in 2011.
In his 114-page ruling, Shubb rejected JMA's contention it would lose money if it reduced the size of the planned resort, noting that the combined Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement failed to consider all streams of income, including condominium and hotel revenues.
"I think as much as anything, the Friends and Sierra Club wanted to know what was going on and feel they were part of the process and that they had input," Chapman said Friday. "… They wanted to have some requests for additional monitoring and measuring, and we absolutely agreed to that."
Aside from upgrades, the project calls for a variety of major environmental upgrades and land use restorations to Homewood's footprint, and is the only mixed-use resort in the U.S., according to TRPA, designed to incorporate gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building certification for neighborhood development design standards.
"The public input process on this was perhaps the most for any project the lake has ever seen," Chapman said. "It took us six years, I may have lost some hair in the process, but the process, it really worked, and I'm happy to say we've reached a point where there seems to be widespread support."
The idea of renovating Homewood's two base areas was first proposed in 2006, before JMA officially submitted an application in 2007.
The project would save the struggling West Shore ski resort — which reportedly has been hard hit by the Great Recession and has been playing catch-up to larger ski areas like Northstar California, Heavenly Mountain Resort and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows — from closing.
Homewood, located near Tahoe City, has operated as a ski resort since 1962. For more information, visit http://www.skihomewood.com.
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