Squaw Valley should not become Vail or Aspen, development critic writes
This is the third in a periodic series of Sierra Sun stories on the proposed multi-acre development at the Village at Squaw Valley, with this story focused on resident and visitor feedback to the draft environmental impact report.
To view previous stories detailing feedback from the development’s largest critic, Sierra Watch; and for feedback from the town of Truckee, click on the links within this article.
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Citing numerous environmental concerns for Olympic Valley and the greater Tahoe-Truckee region, members of public are requesting the proposed Village at Squaw Valley development either be rejected or further scaled down.
That was a common opinion among the 315 individual comment letters from locals and visitors received by Placer County on the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report.
“It is a village, not a city and needs to be proportioned accordingly,” writes Marcia Barnett, a resident of Olympic Valley. “… Mountain villages are most pleasing when they have relatively low density, preserved views, low buildings … and welcoming open plazas.”
She goes on to write that she favors a 50 percent reduction in project density, as it could reduce impacts to natural views — one of her main concerns with the expansion plan.
Barnett was among roughly a third of commenters who stated supporting a scaled-down version of the project — one of six project alternatives studied in the draft EIR, including no project options.
READ MORE: Squaw development threatens “everything we love about Tahoe,” according to Sierra Watch.
However, Chevis Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and Squaw Valley Real Estate, said that option is not feasible.
In order to create a four-season resort with a supporting bed base, the village needs “critical mass,” he said.
Hosea further explained that critical mass is the level of scale and density that satisfies project objectives, while covering the cost of development, providing an acceptable level of return to investors and creating a financially sustainable community.
“The reduced density alternative in the DEIR does not provide adequate critical mass to achieve these objectives and renders the project financially infeasible,” he said.
Too many impacts?
Despite this most recent village proposal being a scaled-down version, its scope and associated impacts are troubling to the public, according to the comments.
One point of contention is the number of “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts that the draft EIR identifies for the proposed project.
“(The) DEIR reflects the staggering and truly unconscionable social and environmental costs that the (developer’s) proposal will impose — and there seem to be at least 23 ‘significant and adverse’ impacts after mitigation,” write valley property owners Kirk and Jacqueline Weaver in a joint letter. “These are 23 reasons to reject the (developer’s) proposal, and we strongly urge you to reject (it) for those reasons.”
Those unavoidable impacts exist in the following areas: cultural resources, visual resources, transportation and circulation, noise, greenhouse gases and climate change, and cumulative impacts.
“While there are a number of significant and unavoidable impacts, many are unavoidable because they exist today even without our project,” said Andrea Parisi, project coordinator for Squaw Valley Real Estate. “And while the mitigations proposed don’t necessarily mitigate all the impacts of those who have come before us, they will offset the additional impacts that are created by our project.”
Despite that, others cite the unavoidable impacts as evidence that the proposed project is too large and should be scaled down.
READ MORE: Town of Truckee shares criticism of Squaw Valley village development.
Of the action alternatives, the reduced density option was found environmentally superior by the draft EIR, since significant impacts to cultural resources, visual resources, traffic, air quality, noise, greenhouse gases, housing and biological resources would be reduced or avoided.
“Allowing such development to go through as it is presently designed would be an absolute shame — no, tragic — and I sure hope you can listen to the voices of those who cherish this place for what it is and do not want to see it destroyed forever,” said James Gaffney, who doesn’t identify himself further. “There is no rewind button.”
Not Vail or Aspen
Preserving the natural beauty of Olympic Valley is at top of mind for both locals and visitors.
“This project will destroy all that we love about the Lake Tahoe area,” writes Matt Azzi, a longtime and frequent Lake Tahoe visitor. “… (People) visit for the natural beauty and to be outdoors and enjoy nature. This is why we visit, and why we will continue to visit Tahoe.”
Fellow longtime Tahoe visitor Sam Clark confirmed that when he stated: “I come for the natural beauty, world-class snow sports and the great atmosphere. (The developer’s) proposal would lessen all of these, irrevocably, making Squaw Valley just another copy of Aspen or Vail.
“If I wanted to go to Aspen or Vail, I would go there. I don’t. I go to Squaw Valley.”
While the project aims to create a destination resort, that doesn’t meant the valley’s natural beauty will be comprised, Parisi said.
“There are nearly 6,000 acres of mountainous terrain between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, and many thousands more beyond that which are accessible (through) the countless miles of beautiful hiking trails. This doesn’t go away,” she said.
In addition, Squaw representatives have touted in the past that the nearly 94-acre project is mainly redevelopment of already disturbed land — mostly parking lots.
While the project does disturb 6 acres of untouched land, the restoration of Squaw Creek causes the development to have net disturbance of negative 9 acres.
“I feel that this project sounds exciting and will attract more business to the area. If it can be done while maintaining the beauty of the valley, then by all means it should go through,” writes Cindy Dorenzo, office manager for Squaw Valley Academy. “More jobs and more visibility for a year-round recreation area is a good thing.”
Dorenzo was among a handful of commenters who voiced support for the project, which outlines the construction of additional lodging units, employee housing, commercial space and an indoor/outdoor recreation center.