Squaw development: Both sides asking leaders to step up as Placer supes vote nears | SierraSun.com

Squaw development: Both sides asking leaders to step up as Placer supes vote nears

Plenty of supporters and opponents to the Squaw project were on hand at the August meeting of the Placer County Planning Commission.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Five years, three revised plans and countless hours of meetings later, the future of the latest effort to redevelop the Village at Squaw Valley will be decided next week.

The Placer County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a final decision on the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan at its Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting at 9 a.m. in the North Tahoe Events Center in Kings Beach.

In August, the county planning commission recommended approval of the plan in a 4-2 decision that followed a 10-hour public hearing.

"Since the Placer County Planning Commission, we took about 15 minutes to celebrate, and then starting thinking about the additional work needed to secure a good outcome on the 15th," Squaw Valley Ski Holdings President and CEO Andy Wirth told the Sun this week.

“The county (of Placer) blames Truckee, Truckee blames the county. Developers get blamed by environmental agencies, and you know what? Nothing changes. We’re frozen. And it’s time for leaders to lead.” Andy Wirth

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He said that process includes looking at all the information that's been compiled on this project over the last five years and distilling that down to what he believes is the most important for the board of supervisors to hear.

"Resorting and prioritizing the information we're going to present to the board, is really what we're going to do," Wirth said, adding he was proud to have the planning commission's approval.

THE 'BUILD-IT APPROACH'

"I continue to think that there are folks who think of us as developers, and we're not," said Wirth. "We're an operating company."

The distinction between developers and his operating company is one Wirth makes often to explain his investment in the Tahoe-Truckee community.

"The in-lieu-of-fees approach is the typical approach taken by developers, and we're not taking that approach," he said. "We're taking the built-it approach."

In other words, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings is building additional workforce housing to support the new employees the current plan to redevelop the Village would bring.

Per current Placer County standards, a new development must include housing for half of the full-time jobs it creates. So, if a development brings 100 full-time jobs to the region, the county requires housing to be built for 50 of those employees. But, per county policy, a company can pay a fee to opt out.

Wirth said he shows his investment in this community many ways, one of which is step up and build housing.

The proposed plan to redevelop the Village would bring 570 full-time, year-round jobs to the resort — and with that, at least 300 new units of on-site employee housing, according to an email from Squaw Valley Public Relations Director Liesl Kenney.

Since Placer County policy only requires housing to be built for half of those 570 full-time positions, that comes to 285 units — below the number to which Squaw Valley Ski Holdings has committed.

'IT'S TIME FOR LEADERS TO LEAD'

On the issue of transportation, Wirth said that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings has been working to bring rideshare services to the region, and along with that has initiated meetings with environmental groups and homeowners associations in an effort to develop what he calls mass transit solutions.

"We've been leading the effort in everything from the development of solutions and the development of funding for mass transit in the region," Wirth said. "That's one of the reasons, of many, why you've seen us go so aggressively and try and get to a yes vote on Measure M."

However, he also said he's felt frustrated by some of the regional leaders lack of initiative in implementing solutions to the problems facing the Tahoe-Truckee region, like housing and transportation.

"The county (of Placer) blames Truckee, Truckee blames the county," Wirth said. "Developers get blamed by environmental agencies, and you know what? Nothing changes. We're frozen. And it's time for leaders to lead."

Wirth said the leaders of Placer County and the nearby town of Truckee have a responsibility to work together to find transportation and housing solutions.

"This is an infrastructure issue — civic entities do infrastructure," he said.

Wirth has been working since September with a Bay Area rideshare start-up called Chariot, on the possibility of bringing its business to the Tahoe-Truckee region. The details are being still being worked out, but Wirth said this is one of the ways, in addition to improving public transportation, that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings has been investing in the region.

"We're leading the effort because we see the absence of civic leadership on this issue," Wirth said.

'THEY'RE MISSING THE POINT'

Wirth isn't the only one asking local leaders to step up.

Mountain Area Preservation, one of the organizations leading the opposition against the current plan to redevelop the Village at Squaw Valley, is hoping Placer supervisors will react differently to the proposal than they have at recent hearings.

"We're really hoping we can help to influence the decision-makers to be leaders on this and not kick the decision to the courts like they did on Martis Valley West," said MAP Executive Director Alexis Ollar.

After the board's 4-1 vote in October to approve the Martis Valley West development, Ollar said she feels supervisors can do more to take a position, rather than expecting things to be worked out in court.

"I really feel like they're missing the point as to why they're decision makers — they do have the opportunity to press pause on these developments, and we're just not seeing that," she said.

As for what MAP has been doing to prepare for Tuesday's hearing, Ollar said the organization has been working to get the word out about the meeting and encouraging community members to come out and make their voices heard.

The Board of Supervisors' hearing Tuesday is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach. Look to SierraSun.com throughout the day for live social media coverage.

By the numbers

The plan to redevelop the Village at Squaw Valley would include up to:

• 850 hotel, condominium-hotel, and fractional ownership residential units with a maximum of 1,493 bedrooms of project development

• A 90,000 square foot Mountain Adventure Camp, including a waterpark and a long list of other possibilities including an arcade, bowling, a movie theatre, and indoor skydiving

• 300 housing units — 201 for new employees, and 99 units of replacement housing

• $500,000, split in two payments to Placer County, to support regional housing

• $97,500 annually to regional transit improvements

• At least $75,000 annually to ensure free TART fare for employees whose jobs were created by the redevelopment

More online: You can view the agenda for the Nov. 8 meeting, as well as other official documentation on the proposal directly on the county’s website at placer.ca.gov.