Summit’s future unveiled |

Summit’s future unveiled

Emma Garrard/ Sierra SunTodd Foster, one of the owners of Royal Gorge, uses a map to talk about future developments on the property.

Royal Gorge developers unveiled their plans to build 950 residential units and connect the cross-country ski resort on Donner Summit to Sugar Bowl before a packed audience Thursday night.

“One of the first things we heard loud and clear was no golf,” said Royal Gorge co-owner Todd Foster during Thursday’s crowded meeting at Ice Lakes Lodge.

Close to 200 audience members erupted in a round of applause after hearing Royal Gorge was not planning to build a golf resort. Foster said the developers didn’t plan on creating a gated community either, a concept many residents were opposed to.

Instead, Royal Gorge coined their vision for the future of the resort “a conservation community,” as a gateway to the outdoors and a source for wilderness education and recreational activities in the Sierra Nevada.

Future development of Royal Gorge has been a pointed topic of discussion for Donner Summit residents since the resort was purchased by Kirk Syme and Foster more than a year ago. The Royal Gorge owners plan to develop portions of the 2,900 acres of land surrounding the resort.

Royal Gorge developers went through a lengthy process of property studies and public input reports regarding the future of the Summit community. A peer review of the environmental impacts is currently underway.

Such a review doesn’t happen often, said Michael White, senior ecologist at the Conservation Biology Institute in November 2006. Typically, public comment occurs during the release of the environmental impact report. An earlier review allows any issues to be addressed ahead of time, he said.

The Conservation Biology Institute was selected as the third-party reviewer of the Royal Gorge environmental study. The consulting firm also reviewed the environmental impact report for the Martis Valley Community Plan.

“The science behind the reports is sound,” Syme said.

However, the Sierra Club doesn’t agree.

“(The report) hasn’t even been discussed,” said David Kean, a representative from the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, after Thursday’s meeting. “The Sierra Club has had no opportunity to review the report.”

The Sierra Club is joined by the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation and the Sierra Business Council in the effort to review Royal Gorge’s environmental reports on the land’s existing biological resources. The Donner Summit Area Association, the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association and the North Fork American River Alliance have also been involved in the review process.

Seventy to 75 percent of land owned by Royal Gorge will be designated as open space, Foster said. Royal Gorge intends to create a land trust, funded by real estate transfer fees from future home sales, to protect the land in perpetuity, he said.

Royal Gorge plans to build four camps in a type of cluster development, with each camp assigned a different purpose, or theme.

The conceptual plan represents the addition of 950 units to Royal Gorge, which would double the size of the immediate area, said Tom Mooers, Sierra Watch executive director.

The Summit Station would be relocated to Summit Camp to serve as a history and nature interpretive center near Van Norden Meadow. Developers also proposed a recreational park for children near the station.

Ski Camp ” which showed the highest density of future development on the conceptual map ” will serve as the base camp for outdoor activities. Developers plan three and four-story residential condominiums, cabins and one-quarter acre home sites, and one-third and two-acre home sites for this area east of Serene Lakes. A nature adventure exploration center and wellness center are in the plans, Syme said.

Developers announced plans for two ski lifts from Ski Camp to Razorback Ridge. Syme said they have been working with Sugar Bowl to create a transport ski lift to have access to the resort. A shuttle service will also be available to Serene Lakes residents and to Royal Gorge skiers, Foster said.

Two new lakes will be created to surround future residential housing at Lake Camp, west of Serene Lakes. According to the conceptual map, Lake Camp will also include the construction of condominiums and other residential home sites. The fourth camp, Wilderness Camp, is located south of Serene Lakes near Point Mariah and will include more rustic-style cabins and one and two-story homes with limited access in winter.

Syme said the plan includes three possible locations for Royal Gorge workforce housing to be constructed.

The majority of existing cross-country ski trails were not disturbed, according to the conceptual map. Audience members applauded for a second time when Foster announced a proposal to build an elevated railroad crossing on Soda Springs Road.

“Now that we all have a sense of what we’re talking about our role now is to step back and look at the Summit as a whole,” Mooers said.

The plan proposal allots for major development that would “forever change the Summit,” Mooers said.

Serene Lakes resident Bill Thauvette said he was pretty impressed with Royal Gorge’s plans and thought the development will blend in with the environment.

Sierra Watch will be working with other local organizations to examine Royal Gorge’s proposal and put the plan into context, keeping the region’s most important resources in mind, he said.

“(The Royal Gorge plan) is the next big issue in the Sierra on a statewide level,” Mooers said.

Royal Gorge hopes to submit their plans for approval by June, Syme said.

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