Residents debate pros, cons of revised Diamond Peak master plan | SierraSun.com

Residents debate pros, cons of revised Diamond Peak master plan

Josh Staab
jstaab@sierrasun.com

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Chateau employees were busy finding extra seats last Wednesday night when Incline Village General Improvement District trustees met to discuss the Diamond Peak Master Plan steering committee report.

Looking out over a conference room packed with his residents eager to hear findings the committee had spent nearly a year developing, IVGID board chairman Jim Smith showed little surprise toward the turnout.

"This is pretty much what we expected," Smith said.

IVGID executive assistant Susan Herron said as many as 219 people showed up for the standing-room only meeting on July 15, and 34 residents filed forms for public comment. The board took no action at the meeting.

Committee member Al O'Connor spoke at length about the master plan's benefits, eventually concluding with the recommendation for staff to work with SE Group to revise the original plan and bring a fresh version back for IVGID board approval.

"It's a better plan and much more workable," O'Connor said.

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SELF-SUSTAINING PLAN

One of the more significant proposed revisions will be reducing capital expenditures from $18.3 million to $14.6 million for the entire, four-phased master plan. Initial debt to be paid by IVGID residents would be reduced from $4 million to $2.3 million.

Project debt would also be reduced from its originally planned $8.1 million to $5.1 million.

Assuming the board approves the plan, each year in the budget process — depending on what phase and how much will go into each phase — trustees would discuss paying down each phase's cost, said IVGID general manager Steven Pinkerton.

The way the plan is proposed, however, each phase's revenue is expected to pay for each subsequent phase, he added.

"We want this thing to be self-sustaining," Pinkerton said. "The bigger issue, I think, is not a question of can we do it; it's a question of what method will we choose."

PLANNING THE 'BIG THREE'

While summer activities take up the smallest part of the capital expenditure at 22 percent, they may have generated the largest outcry from the residents.

O'Connor referred to them as the "big three," a reference to three of the plan's largest, and arguably most contentious, summer activity proposals: construction of a challenge course and a canopy tour (planned for Phase 1a) and an alpine coaster (planned for 1b).

The coaster would only be constructed if Phase 1a is deemed successful.

O'Connor pointed out while Phase 1a's plans — i.e., the canopy course, challenge course, trails for hiking, mountain biking, etc. — are less expensive to build, they would not generate the revenue the alpine coaster could, despite its nearly $1.7 million cost.

Should Phase 1a be a success, revenue generated from it would be available to fund Phase 1b. And, as was the case in SE Group's original plan, revenue generated from both parts of Phase 1 would be enough to fund the remaining three phases, O'Connor said.

STILL A WAYS TO GO

Winter activity capital expenditures covered in Phase 2 include improving existing ski trails and an optional renovation of the Diamond Peak's Snowflake Lodge that, according to the committee, would not significantly impact projected profits. The renovated lodge would account for about 34 percent of capital expenditures.

Phase 2 wouldn't begin until at least five years after it is concluded that Phase 1a is a success.

Phases 3 and 4 include plans for relocating and developing new ski trails at Diamond Peak, as well as a new novice Spillway lift, and tentative construction of a Backside lift, which would account for 44 percent of the total capital expenditure. Again, both plans would not commence until at least 9 years after Phase 1a's success.

"Planning is a 20-year process," O'Connor said. "Nothing in a massive plan is a final decision."

According to the plan, projections indicate the $28 million in revenue generated over the plan's first 12 years (assuming phases are profitable) would pay for the $14.5 million debt service first, then for follow-on phases, while excess funds would go back to IVGID to use for as-needed expenses.

WHAT DO PROPERTY OWNERS WANT?

At the July 15 meeting, committee member Bill Echols presented criticisms, as he was one of four of 13 committee members who wrote a dissenting opinion of the proposed plan.

"I'm here to convince Incline Village it should not go forward with the plan," he said. "I fear that the board does not have the grand vision of what Incline Village should be."

Echols called for trustees to commission a detailed poll, highlighting the costs and potential risks and benefits, to determine if the property owners really support summertime activities.

"Ask the property owners about what they want and what they're willing to pay," he said.

According to the dissenting report, there were no Crystal Bay or non-resident property owners on the steering committee — these groups represent approximately two-thirds of all property owners.

"If you're going to make major changes, make sure you have buy-in from your constituents," Echols said. "We don't pretend to know the will of the property owners."

DIFFERING OPINIONS

Many residents lodged critical remarks against the plan and IVGID's ability to carry it out.

"I urge a 'no' vote on all the big-ticket items," said Incline Village resident Clark Chuka. "I encourage IVGID to run our amenities more economically. If we were an actual business, losing money each year on each portion of our operations, it would be insane to expand that money-losing business."

Others, like Incline resident Charlie White, support the initiative.

"I can't tell you how valuable it is for this town to have opportunities for our children that are affordable through our rec center to keep them going all summer long," said White, also a steering committee member, Incline resident and business owner. "I run a camp right now and I should be the competition. I should be the one who is complaining about this. Absolutely not."

IVGID trustees will now be faced with motioning to accept the steering committee's proposed revisions and approve the master plan, or send it back for further revisions.

In either case, a meeting for that decision has not been scheduled, but should be soon, Smith said.

"We're ready," Pinkerton said of his senior management team. "We should be ready by the end of August, but it will be up to the board."