Squaw Valley development opponents offer more project criticism | SierraSun.com

Squaw Valley development opponents offer more project criticism

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — If commentary this week before the Placer County Board of Supervisors is any indication, opponents to the development proposal to transform Olympic Valley into a larger, more-appealing tourist destination aren't backing down.

While using phrases like "stop this madness" and suggesting Squaw leaders aren't acting in the best interest of the Lake Tahoe region and its locals, opponents voiced heavy criticism of the project's final environmental document during Tuesday's board meeting in Olympic Valley.

"It really seems that this final environmental review is being developer-driven, rather than Placer County-(driven), as minimal changes were made to the proposed project," said Shannon Eckmeyer, of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, addressing the board.

As far as the project is concerned, the final Environmental Impact Report on the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan, which was released earlier this month, outlines mainly building design modifications.

Following the May 2015 release of the draft EIR, project applicant Squaw Valley Real Estate made changes to its proposed plan, including reducing maximum building heights, increasing building separation in the Village Core and Village Neighborhood, and increasing building setbacks in the East Parcel.

However, the number of lodging units (850) and bedrooms (1,493), and the net commercial space (206,211 square feet) remain unchanged.

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"This development seems so clearly inappropriate, and the opposition has been so strong, that one can be forgiven for assuming that they would scale back their plans long before it reaches the board," said Isaac Silverman, staff attorney for Sierra Watch, said at Tuesday's meeting. "Instead, they doubled down. (The) proposal submitted for consideration by the county on the final Environmental Impact Report, it's virtually identical to the plan our community has so soundly rejected."

Of the more than 350 submitted draft EIR comments, many were critical of the report's analysis on specific environmental resources and/or the proposed plan itself.

Common concerns included visual, traffic, safety, noise and water supply impacts, along with the general scale of the proposed plan.

"Most every environmental concern expressed by the 350 comment letters have been pretty much dismissed," said David Stepner, member of the grassroots group Friends of Squaw Valley, referring to the final EIR. " … We advocate that the Planning Commission and (this) board should require a reduction in size of the project in line with the preferred reduce size alternative that was detailed in the draft EIR."

Under that option, the overall size of the project — including unit count, commercial square footage and parking — would be reduced by roughly 50 percent.

According to the draft EIR, excluding the "no project – no development" alternative, the reduced density alternative is the environmentally superior option.

"With this alternative, significant impacts to housing, biological resources, cultural resources, visual resources, traffic, air quality (operations), noise and greenhouse gases would be reduced or avoided, when compared to the project," the draft report states.

However, in an earlier interview, Chevis Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and Squaw Valley Real Estate, said that option is not feasible.

In order to create a four-season resort with a supporting bed base, the village needs "critical mass," he said.

"The reduced density alternative in the DEIR does not provide adequate critical mass … and renders the project financially infeasible," he said.

In addition, the current project proposal is a reduction from a previous plan, which outlined 2,184 bedrooms, 1,093 lodging units and a 132,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp.

"I'm here today to ask the board to stop this madness, and you can lead the effort to craft a plan for Squaw Valley that supports a thriving regional economy, that respects our environment and protects our quality of life," Silverman said. "Our entire community is asking for your leadership."

A Placer County Planning Commission public hearing on the project is slated for late May, with final action anticipated before the county's Board of Supervisors this summer, Paul Thompson, assistant director for the county's Community Development Resource Agency, said at the meeting.

"We, like Sierra Watch, hope that you (supervisors) can be leaders and actually influence project change — rather than process it," Eckmeyer said.

The Placer supervisors meet regularly down the hill in Auburn, but they typically convene at Lake Tahoe on a quarterly basis. Prior to this week, the last time the board met in the Tahoe area was in late January.

How to comment on the final EIR

Email: cdraecs@placer.ca.gov

Mail: Placer County Community Development Resource Agency, Environmental Coordination Services; 3091 County Center Drive, Suite 190; Auburn, CA 95603

Fax: 530-745-3080

More online: Visit bit.ly/1NkGggZ to view the final EIR. Visit bit.ly/1Hfvg0g to learn more about the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan.

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Village project specs

Below is a brief look at the project’s highlights:

• Construction of up to 850 lodging units, with a maximum of 1,493 bedrooms; nearly 300,000 square feet of tourist-serving commercial space, while decommissioning about 92,000 square feet of existing commercial space; and the 90,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp for indoor and outdoor recreation, among other improvements.

• Additional parking spaces, construction of up to 50 employee housing units and restoration of Squaw Creek also are proposed.

• Based on that, project buildout is estimated to take 25 years in various phases, which factors in basin construction regulations and market cycles.

Source: Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan

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