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Boca Sierra Estates scrutiny

JOHN A. BAYLESS

Truckee Town Council and the planning commission met Monday to discuss earlier public input on Planned Community 2, and listened to comments from a crowd of more than 70 people.

Residents at the meeting were sharply divided on basic concepts of the plan.

Town staff conducted three workshops in July to receive input from the public concerning the planned Boca Sierra Estates development on Planned Community 2, an 800-acre parcel located mostly northeast of the Interstate 80/Highway 89 Intersection. About 160 people attended those meetings, spoke with town staff and asked questions of the developers, who modified their plans in response to some of the expressed concerns.

However, in the meeting Monday night, some residents expressed opposition to the scale and location of proposed commercial development in PC-2. Residents of the Prosser area were outspoken about the impact of having the development in back of their homes, and about the increased traffic on Prosser Dam Road and Rainbow Drive.

Some of those present, who also attended the July workshops, said they were disappointed with the tone of the meeting. Other attendees said the concerns raised during the workshop were no surprise.

“Last night I guess was intended to be a combined meeting at the end of which staff would have direction about where to go from here,” Hopkins family representative Brian Mullins said. “There was really no definitive statement at the end of the meeting saying where we would go next.”

He said one issue which came out clearly in the meeting was the reluctance of the town council and the planning commission to make decisions without information from an economic analysis and the environmental impact report to review.

“Our feeling is that we want to work with the town, and have to a huge degree since the end of the workshops,” Mullins said. “We are hoping the decision-making process from here on out will be predicated on qualified expertise being brought into the process.”

He said he hoped people reserved judgment on the project until outside consultants have a chance to evaluate it, and said there was no factual basis for some of the comments made at the meeting – including suggestions that the proposed grocery store be moved out of the triangle formed by Interstate 80, Highway 89 and the Highway 267 Bypass.

“There is no basis for us to move out of the triangle,” Mullins said. “Those remarks also conflicted with the responses of the people who went to the workshops. The majority of planning commission and town council members present last night ignored that, in favor of turning the triangle into some kind of park or open space.”

Mullins said it is essential not to lose sight of commercial realities when considering the development.

“It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that you cannot time the market,” he said. “I’m a little concerned that some were more interested in exercising a wish list than what the market makes available.”

Mullins said the recommendation from this point on should be left in the hands of experts – consultants who will be chosen by the town staff and paid by Boca Sierra Estates.

“It is my view that the merits of what we are proposing should ultimately be measured and defined by qualified experts,” he said. “Based on those expert opinions, the town can make decisions about what it wants to see on PC-2. To do anything in advance of that expert advice is counterproductive.”

For Steve Frisch, a director of Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, the misgivings expressed by some residents at the meeting reflected a deep division in the community about the future of Planned Community 2.

“This is obviously still a largely unresolved issue in the community,” Frisch said. “MAPF put no notice out of this meeting, but there were 77 people there. One thing that amazed me was how unresolved people were about this. It was apparent in the room, which was split about 50-50, and not just people from Prosser, but from the community.”

He said the makeup of the crowd was about what he expected.

“There really has been no reason in the last two years for people to change their minds about this project,” he said. “What was a bad project two years ago is still a bad project for the town.” During the meeting, Frisch expressed concerns about the type of commercial development in Boca Sierra Estates, its location and its size.

He said Truckee’s General Plan identifies Planned Community 2 as a destination resort, and makes no mention of regional commercial like the grocery store and commercial village proposed by the developers.

He also rebutted statements made by Mullins, who said many of those trying to change the commercial layout or size of the project were making comments based on emotion, not on fact.

“He bases his decisions on profit,” Frisch said. “Why should profit be more important than what’s good for the community. You have to make choices in life between economics and quality of life. Planning is the trade-off between the two.”

In the meeting, Frisch said the town should take a serious look at limiting commercial space in PC-2, perhaps dropping it to 50-60,000 square feet instead of the current 175,000. He expressed concern about the impact the development’s commercial village might have on Truckee’s downtown area and also the impact its grocery store would have on the existing grocery stores in town.

“One of the large concerns is that building large-scale grocery store at PC-2 could put Lucky’s out of business,” he said. “It is interesting that there is no provision to include Lucky/Longs in the economic analysis. There should be concern by other businesses in that center about the future health of the store.”

The Rev. Glenn Lundahl, former pastor of the Truckee Lutheran Church, said he was disturbed by the lack of trust some at the meeting exhibited toward town council, the planning commission and staff.

“I am very supportive of community involvement and participation, but sometimes it gets to the point where it is not contributing to the process,” Lundahl said. “What we saw last night was an attempt to block and stall by partisan economic interests.”

Lundahl said the community should be proud of its town staff and elected officials, who gave five hours of their time last night to conduct the workshop.

“I think they can be trusted far more than we are trusting them,” he said. Lundahl also said he feels the Hopkins family, owners of PC-2, are worthy of the community’s trust.

“I’m concerned about the patience of the owners,” he said. “I believe that they are benevolent and we should work with them as much as possible.”

Lundahl commended the Hopkins family for supporting a church as part of Planned Community 2. He said Truckee Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook and Project Engineer Dale Creighton supported the concept.

“It is an opportunity to bring spirituality to the project,” Lundahl said. He said Mullins conveyed the owners’ interest in having a church as part of the final project.

“Tony and the architect are both eager to include it in the final design,” he said.

MAPF President Stefanie Olivieri said the divided opinions at the meeting reflected the fact that there are serious problems with the Boca Sierra Estates plan.

“It showed that there are a lot of things in this plan to be concerned about,” Olivieri said. “As an organization, we have tried to point those things out.

“I was delighted to see such a huge turnout of the public, and I would assume the town council was equally happy to be getting input from the community,” she said. “They will be making the final decision.”

She said it was unfortunate that the discussion of the commercial element in PC-2 was left until the end of the meeting, because some residents had to leave early.

“I hope in the future that they will put the community discussions up front,” she said.

Olivieri said the importance of public input into the process cannot be minimized.

“We all have a tendency not to participate until the bulldozers are at our doorway, and it is no easy task to engage the public,” she said. “I believe the town has made an honest attempt to provide the public with information on the specific plan. Now it is up to the community to attend the meetings when the formal review process begins on the Environmental Impact Report.”

Tahoe Donner resident Larry Skinner, who attended the PC-2 workshops, said the meeting Monday was a let-down after the spirit of cooperation shown by workshop participants.

“I was disappointed in the meeting,” Skinner said. “At the workshops, all was handled with openness and a feeling of compromise. Last night was like a political vendetta. Certain people were very opinionated and not open. They gave us an entirely different feeling on the process.”

He said the attitude of the workshop should have been carried forward into the meeting by participants.

“This has to be solved by compromise, not by standing up and making a big stance, and saying ‘Don’t cross this line,'” Skinner said. “It was like going back to Measure M again. That’s behind us. Let’s get past that.”

Tahoe Donner resident George Long held similar views.

“I was very disappointed that a few people with negative attitudes could control the meeting,” he said. “I thought Ron [Florian] handled it nicely, giving everyone equal opportunity. Even when things were very adverse, he kept his cool and kept the meeting running.”

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