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Barsell development approved

ALEX FREEMON, Sierra Sun

Truckee’s Planning Commission decided to approve of the Barsell property plan to build the Gateway Lodging Center on Aug. 8.

The favorable decision will be basis of the commission’s recommendation to Town Council, which must ultimately decide on Aug. 17 whether to go ahead with the proposed hotel, commercial and residential complex at the junction of Interstate 80 and Highway 267 adjacent to Commercial Row.

The latest meeting follows a July 12 meeting which asked for amendments to the plan, including changing the hotel’s shape slightly, moving it away from from I-80 and the cemetery as well as reducing the amount of parking.

“We think it responds positively to the General Plan and Truckee design guidelines,” said Town Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook.

The Barsell plan continued to be hotly debated as commissioners questioned the developer’s fundamental orientation of the project – and especially its proposed restaurants – toward the highway or the town.

Don Clark, the project’s architect, reassured commissioners that the outside dining and strict architectural guidelines would rule out any fast food franchise.

“No matter what type of food you serve, the buildings will be part of the concept,” he said.

Next to public concerns about the reduced cemetery boundary and possible traffic difficulties, the most detailed objection came from Stefanie Olivieri of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation (MAPF), whose basic objection was that the plan was too vehicle-oriented.

“The changes do nothing to make the project consistent for the Downtown Specific Plan,” she said.

Illustrating her alternate proposal for the site, she cited the project’s floor area ratio, office space, second restaurant and that the hotel does not take advantage of mountain views.

She said that none of those elements conformed to the Downtown Specific Plan because the Barsell property was not precisely in the downtown sub-area.

Instead, she suggested reorienting the hotel to overlook the town, adding a trail on the ridgeline and placing the restaurant inside the hotel.

“The community has fought for ten years to make this a different community from what every other entrance development has been,” she said. Citing the vision of the Downtown Specific Plan, she said “(the project) will define the gateway of our community for the next century.”

Project engineer Dale Creighton said that while he disagreed that the project contradicts the Downtown Specific Plan, he said, “what makes this site economically feasible is to deliver the amount of infrastructure that the hotel needs,” explaining that the cost of delivering utilities to the site required commercial development to make the site profitable.

But Larry Hoffman, property owner Barsell’s attorney, refuted MAPF more directly.

“We’re troubled by this process,” he said. “We’re on the tail end of a long and lengthy process. We’ve compromised ourselves to the end of the line. We are trying to work with the Town Council, commission and staff to put meat on the bone and bring a dynamite project to the town.”

He said it was the fifth or sixth time that MAPF had attempted to redesign the property for them.

“There has been a very serious effort to reach out to MAPF. We don’t want to move off on a new tangent,” Hoffman said.

Lashbrook moderated the dispute, saying, “it’s the kind of mixed use that’s very healthy and benefits this site by providing local presence there and adds to the downtown in non-tourist times.”

He explained that the proposed plan met the requirements in the Downtown Specific Plan, and mentioned that the lawsuit between Barsell and the town over development of this property imposed a Sept. 1 deadline for a conclusion.

“If we talk about numbers, there were compromises. If we think in terms of policy, the project wins,” Lashbrook said.

Debate among the commissioners was terse.

“Litigation avoidance is always the best alternative possible,” said Commissioner Arne Werchick. “I don’t want an appellate court in Nevada City or Sacramento to be telling us what we can or cannot do.”

Commissioner Craig Threshe agreed that the parcel must compromise to accommodate possibly unrealistic standards set by the downtown vision, and added that he would like to see more native forest and subtle landscaping in the project.

After disclosing that she had privately met with Olivieri, commissioner Nancy Richards questioned traffic and pedestrian issues.

“I feel this is way too much development for this site,” Richards said. “It doesn’t really meet the (downtown plan’s) vision.”

The commission ultimately approved to recommend the proposed Gateway Lodging Center to Town Council by a vote of four to one with Nancy Richards dissenting.


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