Squaw Wars: Conservation groups, developers competing for support | SierraSun.com

Squaw Wars: Conservation groups, developers competing for support

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — With less than one month to go before the Placer County Planning Commission hears the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan, advocates and opponents are busy rallying support for their respective side.

On the pro side, the much-debated proposal got a new website last week. SquawTomorrow.com, a simple site without much detail, includes an email sign-up form for those interested to receive updates on the project, as well as a short list of benefits the redevelopment would include.

Days later, Sierra Watch — the conservation group that's been the loudest project critic — published "Keep Squaw True – The Movie," a new film highlighting reasons it's against the proposal. A shortened version appears on the organization's social media pages, while the full 2-minute video can be viewed at sierrawatch.org.

Squaw Tomorrow

"Squaw Tomorrow is really the digital way for us to continue getting those names, getting those supporters so that we can keep them informed about the project," said Liesl Kenney, a spokesperson for Squaw Valley.

They also hand out postcards from their office and showroom in the Village at Squaw, known as Base Camp, where visitors are invited to view models of the proposed redevelopment.

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"It's just a really important time for us to be getting the benefits of the project out there. It's been a hot topic in the community for four years," Kenney said. "There's a lot of misinformation out there."

One thing Kenney said people should keep in mind about the project is that developers, in hopes of gaining community support, have scaled down the size of the project several times since first introducing plans in 2011.

"It's a really passionate community, and there's a lot of really well-organized opposition parties out there," she said. "There's a lot of really fervent supporters of this project, but it's really hard to stand up in a room when everyone is very fired up and intimidating. You know, you get booed."

The Squaw Valley uses primarily infill land, which is land that has already been developed.

"It's a parking lot development," said Kenney. "It's not like we're going in and removing a virgin forest."

Most of the 93-acre redevelopment would take place on what is currently a parking lot. About 6 acres would use undisturbed land.

A two-level parking structure would replace the current lot, creating no change in the number of parking spaces and freeing up the rest of the land to build on.

Of the 93 acres in question, about 12 acres would be used for buildings. The rest is open or landscaped space, including a 9-acre restoration project at Squaw Creek.

"Traffic is a concern. The environment is a concern," Kenney said. "For us, we're just trying to get the message out about the benefits and people can evaluate it as they like."

Keep Squaw True – The Movie

According to the Sierra Watch video, the Squaw proposal includes 10-story high-rises and an indoor water park "as wide as a Walmart and twice as tall."

"KSL announced at the last meeting that they were proposing a height reduction from 108 feet to 96 feet," Sierra Watch spokesman Tom Mooers said in an interview this week. "But I don't think we've seen that reflected in any documents yet. It's all just words at this point. Even if they were to follow through with that, it would still be about 100 feet."

The video is critical of the scope the project may have at full build-out (which would take 25 years), including the use of 78,263,299 gallons of water per year, construction of 1,493 new lodging rooms, and the addition of 8,410 extra cars to area roads.

These figures come from the project's environmental impact report, Mooers said, adding that the decision to release a video around the same time the Squaw Tomorrow website launched was a coincidence.

"We've been working on this for years," he said.

Fact Check

The Sierra Watch video states that the Mountain Adventure Camp would be as big as a Walmart. According to the company's website, Walmart stores come in three sizes: 38,000, 106,000 and 182,000 square feet. The proposed Mountain Adventure Camp building would be 90,000 square feet.

Kenney said the Mountain Adventure Camp was recently scaled-down in height from 108 feet to 96 feet. According to the revisions section of the project's environmental impact report, "maximum allowed heights of buildings would be reduced from 108 feet to a maximum of 96 feet, a 12-foot (11 percent) reduction. The only exception to this is the Mountain Adventure Camp."

The document goes on to explain that half of the Mountain Adventure Camp would be 84 feet high, and the other half would be 108 feet high.

Kenney said the Mountain Adventure Camp would be 6 stories high, but the Sierra Watch video states that it will be 10 stories. Unfortunately, there is no set standard for how many feet make up one story — the height of one story can be roughly anywhere from 10-15 feet, depending on the architect.

What will end up inside the Mountain Adventure Camp has not yet been determined, Kenney said. She said some of the other ideas they'd like to see are a fitness center, indoor climbing or zip lining.

The video, in contrast, says the developers want to build a water park.

"There are a lot of ideas. We're just trying to get permission to build the building, and then we can decide from there what we want to put in it," said Kenney.

Within the Squaw Valley Specific Plan is a nearly 40-item list of "allowable activities and uses" in the proposed Mountain Adventure Camp. It includes uses such as a wave pool, waterfalls, waterslides, waterskiing, rafting and a lazy river. Other potential uses listed include a skate park and simulated skydiving, to name a few.

Project background

KSL Capital Partners is majority owner of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, as well as the company Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. SVSH first proposed a redevelopment plan in 2011, and has since scaled it down in size.

The current Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan outlines 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.

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

In May, the The Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council voted 3-1 to recommend Placer County deny the current proposal. It also voted 3-1 to, “recommend serious consideration be given to the project at a level approximately 50% of what is currently proposed, subject to further research to support the conclusions previously reached in the draft EIR.”

The MAC’s recommendation is advisory only, meaning it will be forwarded to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for consideration.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss, and potentially vote on, the project at its Aug. 11 meeting at a still-to-be-determined location in eastern Placer County. The Board of Supervisors holds the final vote in the matter.

Visit bit.ly/1Hfvg0g to view the current project’s final environmental impact report, and other associated project details.

Visit thevillageatsquaw.com for information from the developers about their vision. Visit keepsquawtrue.org, created by Sierra Watch, to find out more about opposition to the proposal.

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