Donner Cabins subdivision approved, appeals expected from neighbors

Scott Hess

M.C. Taylor Construction’s Donner Cabins project, which has sparked controversy and debate with neighbors, was approved Wednesday by the Town of Truckee Planning Commission.

The project is slated to begin in August, constructed on the north side of Donner Pass Road, near Moraine Road.

The neighbors, however, did not intend to let the project proceed without contention.

Citing mostly environmental concerns in regards to the surrounding wetlands, the neighbors who spoke intended – and still intend – to delay or even stop the project. They have until June 23 to formally appeal the commission’s decision.

Janet Brady, who lives in the Donner Lake area, said she will appeal the decision, which will take the project to the Truckee Town Council for final approval. She added that she and “probably other neighbors” will hire Porter-Simon attorney Steve Gross to handle the appeal.

Brady said neighbors were “infuriated, frustrated, shocked,” with the decision. “That ecologically sensitive wetland is going to be harmed,” she said.

Local planning consultant and M.C. Taylor Construction representative Gavin Ball, who presented the project to the commission, said his company wanted to comply with the town’s requests and do “what we have to do to keep with the town philosophy.”

“The project is consistent with the town plan and the general plan,” Ball said.

He said Taylor Construction has made extensive efforts to preserve open space and the environment, leaving 70 percent open space on the lot, and cutting “only 21 percent of the trees.” Ball also said the company wanted to keep with the town’s philosophy of clustered subdivisions and smaller houses, trying not to populate the area with “huge” homes.

Adrian Juncosa, a senior ecologist and biological consultant who has years of experience in dealing with wetlands, was brought in by the Brady family to study the site with regards to the wetlands and other environmental concerns. Juncosa said the project had major conflicts with the wetland on the property.

“It is absolutely clear to me after seeing the plans that the project is about 30 feet into the wetland area,” Juncosa said at the meeting. If the project is found to be impeding on the wetland, it will have to be modified greatly.

Ball said two studies done on the project site show it would not intrude into the wetland. “There were already two studies, we want to do a third,” Ball said.

Although the two studies and Juncosa’s study showed different findings, Ball was confident that a third study would clear up neighbor’s questions.

Juncosa also mentioned the project area was a typical habitat for the Yellow Warbler, which he says is a “special status species.” In addition, he said the riparian (bank of a natural course of water) habitat would be impacted.

“There are definitely some significant environmental impacts (with this project),” Juncosa stated.

Neighbors also have problems with the projected number of homes. Peter Gerdin, a Truckee resident whose property is adjacent to the project site, said “The density is way too great.”

Taylor Construction plans to build an eight-home subdivision on a 4.98-acre lot.

Gerdin, along with fellow Donner Tract resident George DeLong and Gross, who was hired by neighbors Connie and Albert Scheiber, all said that they felt eight homes on that size property was too much.

The density issue, debated throughout Wednesday’s meeting, was approved. Planning Commissioner Bob Jensen questioned the proximity and placement of the houses in the plan, and said he thought some of the residences would be looking directly down at others.

Assuming neighbors will file an appeal, the Donner Cabins project will be contested in during a future Truckee Town Council meeting.

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