Royal Gorge, neighbors spar over project |

Royal Gorge, neighbors spar over project

Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort’s bid to build a day lodge, ice rink and 18 homesites alongside Lake Van Norden is facing opposition from neighboring Serene Lakes Property Owners Association.

Property owners contend that the project does not adequately address impacts to the environment and traffic on Donner Summit. The proposed expansion, set on 192 acres between Soda Springs and Serene Lakes, has long been planned by the resort to upgrade the popular Van Norden trailhead that allows access around the lake, according to John Slouber, president of Royal Gorge. The trailhead is currently nothing more than an unpaved parking lot and a skier warming hut.

“We need a better starting experience for our clients,” Slouber said.

The 192-acre project area is currently zoned as forest, which allows only one unit per 40 acres. The proposal would rezone 20 acres to residential and the rest would be zoned for recreation, with 121 of those acres remaining as open space. The resort says that the 18 homesites are necessary to offset costs of constructing a road and underground utilities for the lodge, maintenance facility and four employee housing units at the trailhead.

But members of the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association said that the county should not rezone land for the simple economic gain of the owner.

“They haven’t made any showing that they don’t have the money to do [the expansion],” said Martin Bern, an association board member. “Why do they need homesites to pay for the lodge?”

The homeowners association is preparing official comments on the projects’ draft environmental impact report. Association members say the plan doesn’t address impacts on migratory birds, sewage capacity, Lake Van Norden and traffic on the summit.

“I think that it is really going to increase traffic,” said Bern. “There is a very difficult traffic situation up here as it is.”

Busy ski days have been known to create paralyzing traffic on the summit as Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch, Soda Springs Ski Area and Royal Gorge attract visitors.

But Royal Gorge’s Slouber disputed that the project will create a traffic problem. He pointed out that the proposal will actually eliminate parking spaces. He claims that the project is more of an enhancement or upgrade for existing clients rather than an expansion. Slouber also noted that the development will not infringe on the fragile alpine, meadow that surrounds Lake Van Norden. Resort officials also emphasized that with railroad tracks and roads bordering the land, the development area is not a pristine wilderness site.

“This is not some wildly new usage,” said Slouber, calling the project a small, confined development.

But the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association said that the forest designation was set by the county to preserve the rural atmosphere of the Summit Valley area. Homeowners question whether cumulative impacts from several smaller development like the Royal Gorge project will change the face of Donner Summit.

“We urge the county, which has zoned this property as forest in an effort to retain the rural character of the county, to require the applicant to address . . . inadequacies in the EIR before considering Royal Gorge’s application,” a statement from the property owners association said.

Bern echoed those sentiments, saying the project has passed over important details about potential impacts that area homeowners would like to see fully addressed.

“We think that more environmental analysis should be done and more mitigation considered,” said Bern.

Nevada County will accept official comments on the project’s draft environmental impact report until May 24, after which point the final EIR will be written.

Royal Gorge at a glance

– More than 9,000 acres of skiable terrain

– The largest groomed track system in North America

– More than 90 trails

– Four surface lifts

– Two overnight lodges, private ski cabins and a day lodge

– 10 warming huts

– Four cafes

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