Homewood deal not dead | SierraSun.com

Homewood deal not dead

David Bunker
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunThe property under discussion is on the southern side of the 1,260-acre Homewood Mountain Resort. It contains Quail Lake, a 14-acre private fishing lake.
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After being cut out of a federal spending bill earlier this year, a piece of Homewood Mountain Resort may still be purchased by the U.S. Forest Service.

While the amount of land being considered by the Forest Service has diminished from the entire upper portion of the mountain to a swath of land around a lake and sensitive stream, local officials are optimistic a deal will be struck.

Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz said he will support the sale if the community will benefit, the negotiations are done in the open and if there is a demonstrated environmental and recreation benefit to the area.

“It looks like I’ll be able to support it, especially if the community supports it,” said Kranz.

Kranz said U.S. Congressman John Doolittle will likely retract his legislative blockade of the sale if those conditions are met.

A clause Doolittle authored, which explicitly blocks the use of federal money to acquire land at Homewood, was inserted into the Department of Interior budget bill, which has passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and now sits in a conference committee made up of members of both chambers of Congress.

The bill has no clear timetable for passage, said Kathy Schmidlin, Washington D.C. spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Doolittle spokeswoman Laura Blackann did not return repeated calls by the Sierra Sun for comment on the matter.

The property under discussion is on the southern side of the 1,260-acre Homewood Mountain Resort. It contains Quail Lake, a 14-acre private fishing lake; and Quail Creek, which drains into Lake Tahoe, making it an important watershed for Lake Tahoe’s water quality.

Earlier discussions of a land purchase included the entire upper portion of the mountain for tens of millions of dollars. Those talks were kept behind closed doors and only known by then-owner of Homewood Jeff Yurosek, the Forest Service and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The secrecy rankled Kranz and Doolittle, who said they did not know enough to support the sale, leading Doolittle to move to block the item in the appropriations bill.

Kranz said he wants to be sure the community knows about any property discussions and has a chance to comment during the process.

“I want to make sure that this process is fully daylighted, and that all of the interest groups support it,” Kranz said.

He said he hopes the plan can be supported by organizations such as The League to Save Lake Tahoe.

Kranz, who represents the eastern portion of Placer County and sits on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency board, said he was ambushed by the initial closed-door process. He had many concerns, including the tax deductions Placer County would suffer if the land became federally owned and the reasoning behind paying such a high price for land that would retain its same use.

“Since that time, I have come to know that there are some water quality issues attached to it,” Kranz said.

While the Forest Service does not initiate discussions over land purchases in the Tahoe Basin, officials will listen if a willing-to-sell landowner approaches them, said Rex Norman, spokesman for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service. Norman said the discussions are still very informal.

“We’re not in a formal acquisition process,” he said. “We’re not even close to a formal acquisition process.”

The Forest Service already purchased a portion of Homewood years ago when the agency purchased several hundred acres along Madden Creek on the north side of the resort, Norman said.

The Forest Service evaluates its interest in private land by looking at the environmental, recreational and public access value of the land.

Money for the land deal could come from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, which sells federal land near Las Vegas to fund conservation around Lake Tahoe.

Homewood Mountain Resort owner Art Chapman, president of Bay Area development company JMA Ventures, has his hands full getting ready for winter, meeting with local government agencies and planning a new village at the base of the mountain.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Placer County will soon solicit outside project management help to assist in the planning of a village at Homewood, said TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan.

Chapman said any money generated by a land sale to the U.S. Forest Service would be reinvested into improving the resort.

Plans are still unclear, but Chapman said the idea is to build a center with a mix of lodging, shopping and restaurants where the resort’s main parking lot is along Highway 89. The village plan will provide for underground parking and a gondola would carry skiers from the village to a mid-mountain day lodge.

Chapman said he is not trying to enlarge the mountain, but to be more effective in attracting families who want to stay at the resort for several days and to keep locals coming back.

“Although the mountain can’t compete for steepness or vertical drop with some other resorts, we can compete in views and in children and family skiing,” Chapman said. “We’re going to develop the finest children’s program to be found in the Western United States.”

Chapman expects to have a conceptual plan of the village completed within 60 days and plans to start holding public meetings on his plans at that time. Completing the master plan for the resort will likely take two years, he said.

But changes are already beginning at the mountain. Already this year the resort has purchased four new groomers and has spent more than $600,000 in water quality improvements, Chapman said.

The mountain has also boosted its children’s program by adding a carousel and building “critter canyon,” a ski run for children.