Developer weighs criticism of low-cost units | SierraSun.com

Developer weighs criticism of low-cost units

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Ryan Salm/Sierra Sun file photoAndrea Clark, vice president of special projects, speaks with developer Alex A. Mourelatos in Tahoe Vista last year about affordable housing in the Tahoe Vista workforce housing project known as Vista Village. The project's environmental study elicited a barrage of negative comments.

The proposed Vista Village affordable housing project, which received a barrage of criticism from neighbors and area businesses at a Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meeting in May, is still making headway.

The developers are busy evaluating and responding to public comments submitted to the Tahoe Vista project’s Environmental Impact Report, many of which have a poor view of the project, said Andrea Clark of Pacific West Communities.

“There’s no doubt [that] the need and demand for affordable housing continues to exist,” Clark said. “The tone is very negative and against development. Until the community feels that they have a plan that they feel comfortable with, I’m not sure that anything is going to go forward in that community.”

Clark said the development firm is making an effort to accurately and thoroughly address every comment submitted for the 72-unit residential project. The public comment period closed in June.

“We received many, many, many comments of, ‘We don’t want this project, the project is too dense,'” Clark said.

Despite public criticism, the developer remains committed to providing affordable housing on the 12-acre lot adjacent to National Avenue.

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“It’s really a matter of, can we bring something forward that the community can embrace?” Clark said. “And that really is our goal.”

Property Owner Alex Mourelatos said the project missed a funding window in August because the environmental document was not yet certified, but that is not stopping the development’s progress. The developer previously lowered the number of proposed affordable units from more than 150 to the current 72.

Project proponents will determine how to move forward by responding to the public comments, Mourelatos said.

“We’re going to decide if we modify, how we modify and whether we go forward,” Mourelatos said in a phone interview Monday.

Among other modifications and improvements, Mourelatos said he is considering alternative entry and exit routes, and is looking to incorporate a village concept using different types and styles of housing.

“We’re basically trying to think out of the box to meet many of the issues and questions raised by the community as possible,” Mourelatos said. He reiterated his commitment to building affordable housing in Tahoe Vista.

“I’m very optimistic that we will eventually have affordable housing on that 12-acre parcel,” Mourelatos said.

But to receive community support, the project must address the bigger picture, residents say.

“It’s really bigger than Vista Village, the concerns of the community,” said Karen Van Epps of the North Tahoe Development Watch. “There are very valid concerns because Tahoe Vista has unmitigated, identified issues.”

Water flow, noise levels, traffic and environmental preservation, among other issues, were all identified in the 1998 Environmental Impact Report for the Tahoe Vista community plan, Van Epps said. Those issues have yet to be addressed and resolved, she said.

“We need to fix the infrastructure here in Tahoe Vista before we add development of any type,” Van Epps said.

The North Tahoe Development Watch hired legal counsel to submit a comment to the environmental impact report.

“We contracted their services to help us deal with facts and data, so we weren’t just a community that has an opinion,” Van Epps said.

The developer considered the legal comment letter as a litigation threat, Clark said.

“It was very clearly an anti-development letter,” Clark said. “If we don’t respond to each of those comments thoroughly and accurately and legally, we are very certain the North Tahoe Development Watch will bring action.”

Resident Jerry Wotel said he thought a version with 40 to 50 units would be acceptable to the community. The developer never analyzed the option because it was not cost-effective, Clark said.

“I think affordable housing is needed,” Wotel said. “I always objected to it being in one place, one spot. It needed to be distributed throughout the North Shore.”