Despite revisions, residents still critical of proposed upgrades at Squaw Valley

Margaret Moran
File photoMajor changes could be in store for Squaw Valley and its village.

KINGS BEACH, Calif. – Public concerns still exist regarding the future of Squaw Valley and its village despite recent alterations developers have made to scale down a proposed 101.5-acre capital improvement plan.

Changes to the project, which aims to develop an all-season mountain resort community by adding amenities and more lodging options, include lower building heights, reduced square footage of certain buildings and fewer proposed units.

“We are in support of a thoughtful economic and environmental portioned expansion of the village, but what is being proposed is not a village; it is a city,” said Olympic Valley resident Fred Ilfeld at Tuesday’s well attended Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting at the North Tahoe Event Center.

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Four building heights are proposed to be reduced: Two buildings are going from 10 stories to six stories; one building from eight stories to six; and the other from six stories to five. As a result, building square footage will be reduced, and unit and bedroom counts will reduce from 1,295 units/3,238 bedrooms to 1,093 units/2,184 bedrooms, said Alex Fisch, senior planner for Placer County Planning Services, at Tuesday’s meeting.

“This is an enormous expansion, way out of proportion to what our valley can absorb,” said Ilfeld, listing concerns regarding water availability, traffic congestion, sufficient day parking, view impairments from building heights, and noise and light pollution. “Its sheer size, it would imbalance the region, adversely threatening retail and recreational resources in other portions of eastern Placer County.”

Chevis Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Valley, disagreed, indicating the project focuses more on the construction of additional lodging – consisting of hotel units, condominium units and timeshare units – than anything else.

“We’re not a predatory developer,” he said.

Additional units and bedrooms would give resort-goers a chance to stay overnight, Hosea added, rather than them leaving, driving to other accommodations and returning the next day.

“We’re trying to reduce that dependence on our ski destination experience by car, so as to compete with the top alpine destinations,” he said.

A particular amenity in the project that drew resident Sally Brew’s attention is the Mountain Adventure Center, a 132,000-square foot building that would include a pool and other possible features, such as water slides and zip lines.

“We have Lake Tahoe right here,” she said. “We have trails, Shirley Canyon, we have the Pacific Crest Trail within walking distance from the bottom of the valley. There is so much that we have to offer in the natural environment of Squaw Valley.”

Fisch said the revised project proposes new outdoor public recreation facilities, including an interpretive park and stream restoration area east of the Squaw Creek channel, trailhead improvements at the Granite Chief and Shirley Lake trailheads, and an extension of a bike and walking trail through the project adjacent to Squaw Valley Road and Squaw Creek.

As for the Mountain Adventure Center, Hosea said it’s needed to give people a reason to come to Squaw in the summer, a normally slow time for the resort, to help make it a year-round destination.

“Basically, we’re going to have a water park … coming in and that’s the default position,” said Olympic Valley resident Ed Heneveld. “It’s not necessarily what the community would have chosen if we had the forum to develop our own community plan, plan our own future.”

One of Heneveld’s other concerns is the project’s economic viability.

“There must be a better way than just throwing the dice and hoping this is a successful project,” he said. “… This developer has a vision of what he thinks will be regionally sustainable, locally sustainable, but I just have some concerns about what happens if they’re wrong.”

To better assess project viability, Heneveld suggested an economic analysis of the local market and a regional impact analysis be done by a third party.

Hosea said much analysis has been done by Denver-based KSL Capital Partners, the private equity firm that acquired Squaw Valley in late 2010.

“Why would we be successful?” he asked. “Don’t compare us to the failed developers within this valley. Compare us to ourselves. Go online. Look at KSL Capital and KSL resorts where we’ve been developing for the last 20 years, and look at those results, because without exception, there are no failures.”

A draft Environmental Impact Report is currently being prepared and is expected to be completed at the earliest by the early to mid-summer, Fisch said, at which point a 45-day public comment period will begin.

The project is proposed in four phases, and is estimated to take between 12 to 15 years to complete.

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