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Squaw developer makes concessions

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Developers of the recently approved Squaw Valley village project have met the Town of Truckee’s requests for affordable housing and traffic mitigations.

The agreement, which was finalized Monday morning with Intrawest, will keep the town from filing an appeal with Placer County concerning the 774,000-square-foot proposal, a move that would have caused delays for the development or possible litigation.

“I’m glad we were able to work it out,” said Town Manager Steve Wright. “It provides some guarantees rather than assurances that housing will actually get built.”

“We would much prefer to be regional partners than get into litigation with our regional partners,” Wright said.

The Intrawest Village Project – a pedestrian village at the base of Squaw Valley that will house 80 retail shops and restaurants as well as condominium units and parking – received Placer County Planning Commission approval two weeks ago, but sparked concern from town officials on the impact the development would have on Truckee.

The biggest concerns were the lack of affordable housing available for what town officials are estimating to be at least 900 employees and their families that would be moving to the area, as well as increased traffic along Highway 89 South.

At last Thursday’s town council meeting, council members voted 4-1 not to file an appeal if the developer agreed to the town’s demands that Intrawest address their concerns. Intrawest met the town’s Monday morning deadline, and agreed to the following terms:

– Intrawest will build at least 80 affordable housing units in the Squaw Valley-North Lake Tahoe area. If Intrawest decides to build in the Martis Valley area, they have guaranteed to double that number to 160 affordable housing units.

– Intrawest will spend at least $90,000 for improvements to help with increased traffic at the Highway 89 South and Interstate 80 interchange.

– If Placer County fails to participate on widening the two-lane highway, Intrawest will commit $150,000 to the town for improvements on the Highway 89 tunnel at the railroad crossing known as the “Mousehole.”

“We think it’s the best deal we could get,” said Tony Lashbrook, Truckee’s community development director. “I think Intrawest really stepped up and said, ‘we’re willing to mitigate our impacts.’ I think they (Intrawest) were trying to do the best thing.”

Although Lashbrook said he is pleased with Intrawest’s commitment to mitigate the development’s impact on Truckee, the shortage of affordable housing is still an issue.

“It will make the housing situation better than it was before,” he said. “But do we think it’s enough housing? No.”

Council member Maia Schneider, the only council member to vote against project approval, said her concern was the agreement did not adequately address the project’s impact on the affordable housing crunch in Truckee.

“I really give credit to staff for pulling in a strong agreement with Intrawest,” Schneider said. “My concern was it just doesn’t go far enough. The problem is we are already in the hole for affordable housing. This isn’t helping. This is going to make the situation worse.”

Had the town appealed the project, the potential for litigation was possible. Schneider said she was willing to go that far to address the affordable housing issue.

“It’s a tricky spot to be in,” she said. “You never want to initiate the potential of litigation. But there’s some litigation you choose.”

Schneider said a possible 900 new village employees would mostly be working in the service sector, with most likely no benefits and near minimum wage earnings.

“They’ll be trying to find housing in a high demand, low supply rental market,” she said. “This will only drive up the prices.”

Intrawest officials said accepting the town’s provisions was a business decision that would help the project move forward as well as mitigate the town’s concerns on the project’s impacts.

According to Tom Jacobson, vice president of Resort Development, Intrawest was pleased with the town staff and council on moving forward with an agreement that would minimize their concerns. He called the agreement a “compromise on both sides.”

“We want the town to support us,” Jacobson said. “The village will be the best village ever if it has the support from the community. We wanted the town to feel comfortable with this project.”

The Intrawest Village Project will take five to seven years to complete and construction could begin as early as next summer, according to Bill Combs with the Placer County Planning Department.

The first phase of the project includes an underground parking area with an additional 1,000 parking spaces that will be accessible to both village users and day skiers. Phase two consists of commercial space and phase three encompasses the studios and condominiums.

Mayor Josh Susman discussed at last week’s meeting how this issue relates to a possible new trend in area resorts being more responsible to their employees and the community.

Northstar recently bought housing units next to Cottonwood in Truckee for employees, and Sugar Bowl is in the process of acquiring Donner Summit Lodge, which will also be used to house employees.

“The resorts are recognizing they need to be more responsible for their own needs,” he said. “Perhaps the resorts will come to the table on this to work together on the issue of affordable housing.”

He said that no one on town council agrees that Intrawest’s commitment to build housing units is enough to provide adequate housing in Truckee, but it’s a start.

“My opinion is there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done in furthering our goals toward additional housing needs and we can hopefully accomplish that without litigation,” he said. “We have a long way to go still.”

Schneider said she hopes that future developers in surrounding areas outside of Truckee will address the need for affordable housing.


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