Old Hilltop, New Plans
A century ago, Truckees Hilltop area was the outdoor winter sports capital of the western United States.Visitors could walk from the train depot and take one of the countrys first mechanized rope tows, then sled, toboggan or ski down the hill. Or they could enjoy the alpine scenery and watch the best skiers of the day take flight off a ski jump overlooking the town.In recent decades, time has caught up with the assortment of sheds, cabins and shops on the site that have become dilapidated relics of an earlier era. Now, an ambitious multiple-use development proposed for the Hilltop area is moving into the final phases of regulatory review after nearly seven years of planning. The Town of Truckee will host a public workshop on the project tonight.Sitting atop the hill just south of downtown, the Hilltop project covers 57 acres owned by five different parties. The Hilltop master plan envisions a mix of commercial, residential, and lodging uses, in addition to renovating the existing Cottonwood Restaurant and creating a new historic ski park. Once the Truckee Town Council adopts the Hilltop Master Plan, the town will schedule public hearings on the developments individual projects as they come forward.This is a really important part of downtown and one of the last areas in downtown with development potential, so weve got to make sure its done right, said Jaime LaChance, an assistant town planner. All future applications for Hilltop will require a public hearing because this is a highly visible site and there is a lot of concern over what is going to happen.The proponents have made no major changes to the project since it last came before the public in September, 2006, LaChance added. One of the projects private planners described the changes as minor alterations to tie up loose ends.In general there were quite a few minor changes to bring it into compliance and match up the zoning, said Dale Creighton with SCO Planning andamp; Engineering.Hilltop has not gone through an Environmental Impact Report, LaChance said. Instead, the town required the less-stringent Mitigated Negative Declaration.There was no (Environmental Impact Report) for a couple of reasons the impacts of the project were reviewed in an EIR for the Downtown Specific Plan, this is a sub-project of that plan, and because an EIR is only necessary if there are potentially significant impacts, which based on our study we found none, LaChance said.However, the town called for a more extensive traffic study, LaChance said. Neighbors of the proposed development questioned the safety of the intersection at Ponderosa and Palisades drives at previous meetings, and LaChance said the town gave the junction extra scrutiny.She said because the steep grade at the intersection was the main safety concern, staff will look at ways to make the intersection more level. The entrance to Cottonwood will also be moved east, Creighton said, and may also include a roundabout.After the public meeting tonight, Hilltop will go before the planning commission on Dec. 18 and, barring major problems, would then go to town council for final approval early next year, LaChance said.At that point individual projects like the cohousing project could come forward, LaChance said, speaking of shared-ownership residential properties.Creighton said one of the property owners, Fitch and Cook Communities, may be the first to come forward with a project.Their property is mainly some attached housing, Creighton said. Before any construction can begin, however, infrastructure must be in place, LaChance said.My guess is that at the very earliest construction could begin in the spring or summer of 2009, LaChance said.