Barsell project approved: controversial plan approved in 4-1 vote by town council
After five years, lengthy litigation and concerns regarding the cultural preservation of the area, Town Council approved Aug. 17 a new hotel, restaurant and commercial space on the Barsell property south of Interstate 80 off Highway 267.
In a 4 to 1 vote, the Council approved a 120-room hotel, 10,000 square feet of restaurant space, 26,200 square feet of retail commercial space divided into five buildings, 16,000 square feet of professional office developments in two buildings, a maximum of 25 residential units, and 625 square feet for construction of a visitor information center.
“It is the largest development project considered in the downtown study area since the planning area was established,” Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook said.
The new facility, developed by the Barsell family under the Peoria Sunnyside corporation, will result in the extension of Jibboom Street and on-site and street parking.
“I think once it’s built the people of Truckee will be proud of this development,” Mayor Maia Schneider said. “In the end people will see a development that will enhance the area, not take away from it. It will also be a structure that we will be proud of architecturally.”
The project has been criticized by the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation as one inconsistent with the Downtown Specific Plan, and one that would result in a tourist attraction for travelers on I-80.
Councilman Josh Susman voted against the development.
“In review of the Planning Commission deliberation, the report was emphatic about pedestrian orientation and access to downtown, but the language was modified to suggest that the orientation may not entirely be the responsibility of the developer,” Susman said.
“Also, the Planning Commission agreed to diminish impacts on the cemetery. I don’t feel there should be impacts. I disagree that we should allow this project to intrude within the 100-foot setback from the property line.”
The 13.45 acres in between the Truckee Cemetery District, Jibboom Street, Hwy. 267 and I-80 has been considered for development numerous times in the last half century. Some of the proposals, such as a 200,000-square-foot commercial area and drive-in theater, were narrowly defeated, and spawned advocacy groups such as the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, which opposed a Kmart franchise that was proposed, disputed, and defeated in in the late 1980s.
“This property has been instrumental in creating an incorporated Truckee,” Susman said. “Out of the Kmart project came a blatant understanding that we had no control over our land use decisions. That project was approved, and if MAPF had not fought that case for three years we would have a Kmart. A lot of people don’t understand that MAPF defeated that project in court.”
The Peoria Sunnyside property was originally proposed in 1995 as a commercial space but was postponed to allow for the development of the General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan.
When the Downtown Specific Plan was completed in 1997 and outlined requirements for the site, Barsell filed suit for unfair zoning regulations, arguing that the land resolution unfairly precluded development opportunities and degraded the value of the property.
“Some pieces [of the dispute] were resolved,” explained Lashbrook, “but there were three items that the court would not decide, and we were prepared to go to trial… collectively we decided to take one last look at settlement, and came up with an agreement that allowed for the consideration of a modified proposal for development.”
The deadline for considering the settlement proposal is Sept. 1. Considering the Town Council’s approval of the project, Lashbrook said it is unlikely Barsell will appeal.
“I just wanted to make sure the language for two items was included in the plan,” Mayor Schneider said, “Pedestrian access from the site to downtown, and exchange of restaurants for retail space.”
Council member Bob Drake said that he was decided on the project but was waiting to hear arguments concerning two amendments to the zoning agreements specified in the Downtown Specific Plan.
“The issues have been hashed for years and years here. The reason for this hearing was simply for a zone changing. Even though it is a complicated issue, at this point it’s as simple as ‘do you want to make this change,'” Drake said.
Schneider explained that the reasons for the zone changes were to accommodate affordable housing for employees, and for the setback line to the cemetery.
The Truckee Cemetery District is opposed to the development on the property.
“My biggest concern is for loss of peace and serenity,” Vice President for the Truckee Cemetery District Sharon Arnold said.
Project Planner Dale Creighton said that he has cooperated with the town in ever step of the process, including moving the building that would be near the cemetery.
“I left the meeting with the Truckee Cemetery District feeling that we had agreed on a buffer between the cemetery and the development,” he said.
Creighton said the next step for the project is to do a development agreement, which “locks everybody in” and specifies a timeline.
“We hope to begin action by next summer,” he said. “It takes six to seven months to do the drawings.”
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