Northstar development set for Placer approval |

Northstar development set for Placer approval

Placer County will consider approval Wednesday, of plans for 1,450 condominium and townhome units and a 255-room lodge at Northstar-at-Tahoe that represents the next piece of the resort’s extensive expansion.

The Northstar Highlands, proposed on 345 acres south of the resort’s village, also includes an environmental review for a 96-unit workforce housing project that will house employees of the Northstar Village and the first phase of the Highlands project. That project, named Sawmill Heights, was approved in 2001, but has been held up by a lawsuit by Northstar homeowners challenging the proposal because it did not undergo the highest level of environmental review.

Apart from Sawmill Heights, developer East West Partners plans to build 174 more affordable housing units to satisfy the housing demand created by the latter phases of the Highlands project, according to the Highlands draft environmental impact report. However, no formal plans for these units have been created, according to the project draft environmental impact report.

By addressing the employee housing issues in the project proposal, the developers will avoid appeals by the Town of Truckee that delayed the approval of the Siller Ranch project in the Martis Valley. Truckee planning officials have reviewed the project and are satisfied with the employee housing included in the proposal.

With the Highlands project come plans for significant changes to how the resort will operate. A second access off of Highway 267 will be created to service the project and a 1,800-space parking lot off of the lower end of Northstar Drive would be added to decrease day-skier traffic on the full length of the road. A traffic light will also be added to the intersection of Northstar Drive and Highway 267 by next summer.

All of the condos and townhomes, which will be phased in over the next 15 to 20 years, will be ski-in, ski-out residences, meshing with developer East West Partners’ and ski resort owner Booth Creek’s overall vision of the ski area as a “destination resort,” said Project Manager Aaron Revere.

In conjunction with the shops and restaurants going up at the new Northstar Village, the Highlands project will attract visitors to stay at the resort longer than the traditional weekend ski trip, said Revere.

The village, which also has a residential component, will serve as the commercial and retail hub of the destination resort, while the Highlands will provide the residential side of the equation, but also include a restaurant, spa and skier services.

“This helps to level out the seasonal aspect (of the resort),” said Revere. “It is a better economic model on a variety of levels.”

The ski-in, ski-out nature of the residences will also help to reduce car traffic at Northstar and encourage visitors to walk, ski or use public transit to around the resort, said Revere.

The first phase of the Highlands project would total 250 units, said Revere, and, because of the almost 4 miles of road needing to be built, could take five to seven years to complete.

The project, largely because of its enormous size, has attracted its number of critics.

“The plans do not seem consistent with the character of Northstar as we know it,” wrote Rod and Jonnie Jacobs, part-time residents of Northstar, in their comments on the environmental document. “When these plans are added to the plans for the village and condominiums already proposed, they represent a massive buildout which is too large for Northstar and the Martis Valley.”

But Sierra Watch, the environmental group that has been an outspoken critic of Martis Valley development, concedes that the Highlands is not on a section of land that is of the high biological value.

According to Revere, that, along with the clustered nature of the project, minimize the Highlands environmental impact.

“It is not like this is a virgin area,” said Revere of the project location. “It is a developed area.”

What: Placer County Planning Commission

Where: North Tahoe Conference Center, Kings Beach

When: Northstar Retreat ” 11 a.m.

Employee Housing ” 11:30 a.m.

Northstar Highlands ” 2 p.m.

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