The Valley’s future | SierraSun.com

The Valley’s future

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Sun file photoDevelopment in eastern Placer County is occurring mostly in Squaw Valley.
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John Chisholm moved to Squaw Valley more than 50 years ago, when he bought his five-bedroom home for $14,000.

He and his wife were only one of four year-round families in the valley at the time. He has seen a lot of changes over the decades, from the 1960 Olympic Games to the development of the Village at Squaw less than five years ago.

“I don’t think much about what’s going to happen here in future development. The problem here is the water … no major developments until they figure out how to get additional water without pumping the creek dry,” Chisholm said.

Development in eastern Placer County is occurring mostly in Squaw Valley right now, with five major projects on the horizon. Tahoe City and North Tahoe have very few projects in their futures.

Whether it’s economics or land availability, Allen Breuch, supervising planner for Placer County, said that undoubtedly the most development action is in the valley.

“Squaw Valley is really picking up for us on projects,” Breuch said. “All seem to be coming in at once.”

Sena at Squaw Valley proposes 200 condominiums over 21 acres near the entrance to Squaw Valley Road. Olympic Estates is a four-acre parcel that is planned to hold 16 residential lots. PlumpJack Inn is looking to expand with a new building, including 34 residential units. Squaw Valley Academy is proposing to construct a new dormitory, headmaster’s quarters and recreational building. And the Resort at Squaw Creek is still waiting for a will-serve order from Squaw Valley Public Services District before continuing forward with a 200-plus condominium project, part of Phase Two of their development.

“The limitations of Squaw Valley development are actually restrictive ” because of the water, because of the development history,” said Cam Kicklighter, director of development for the Resort at Squaw Creek. “I don’t think there is much more development that can occur in Squaw Valley.”

Sandy Poulsen, a longtime resident and Squaw Valley matriarch, said development in Squaw is simply a product of being a beautiful place. With great mountains, year-round recreation, proximity to Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Reno and the Olympic history, Squaw is a “very, very exciting place.”

Like Chisholm, Poulsen has seen many changes in the valley over the years. When she first came to camp or ski there were no roads or bridges, restaurants, developed skiing, lodgings or shopping that make Squaw Valley what it is today.

“I think it’s a worthwhile change,” Poulsen said.

Russell Poulsen, Sandy’s son and manager of Poulsen Commercial Properties, has many ideas as to why the development in eastern Placer County is centralized in Squaw Valley. He attributes over-regulation in the Lake Tahoe Basin, fewer number of families and the high number of vacant second-homes as possible reasons North Tahoe is void of new projects.

“To accomplish anything in the Lake Tahoe Basin, you have to brave a gauntlet of agencies and hurdles,” he said.

Additionally, he said, with a world-class ski resort, Squaw Valley is likely the most underdeveloped ski area in the country, or even the world. Relatively speaking, the valley is still in infantile stages of development, he said.

But for future development to take place, it comes down to water. The Resort at Squaw Creek is working with the utility district to find and allot water to supply the new condo units, including reducing golf course irrigation by the amount of water demanded by Phase Two development, relocating irrigation wells away from Squaw Creek, monitoring use of irrigation and agreeing to an irrigation cap in the summer months.

Phase Two marks the end of the development of the Resort, which began in 1990.

Kicklighter and other resort officials said they believe that development and environmental sensitivity can co-exist and that development can contribute funding toward environmental concerns.

The issues of water availability in Squaw Valley are nothing new. There is simply not enough readily available high quality water, said Rick Lierman, the district’s general manager. There is 4,000 acre feet of water in the basin, but only 1,560 acre feet of easily treatable, quality water, Lierman said.

Additionally, the preservation of Squaw Creek is of concern for many residents. Studies are being conducted to determine the extent of water availability, said Placer County’s Breuch.

It is particularly important to look at the cumulative effects of the quantity and quality of the water in Squaw Valley measured against the amount of new projects being proposed, Breuch said.

“I think the use of potable water has to be monitored and measured carefully … it’s something all future development has to be aware of. It is not an infinite supply …” Kicklighter said.

Meanwhile, other than parking lots and facade improvements, there are just a few larger projects in the works across the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe, including the Villas at Harborside on the West Shore and Tahoe Sands and Vista Village in Tahoe Vista.

The Tahoe Sands Redevelopment project will expand on the existing lodgings with 109 time-share units. That is on the same scale as Tonopalo, Breuch said. The project is still in the preliminary stages of environmental review, but will likely be seven three-story buildings. It is one of the more major of the projects within the basin on the North Shore, Breuch said.