Truckee seeks Intrawest employee housing solutions
OLYMPIC VALLEY – An estimated 450 new faces will enter the work force in Olympic Valley over the next several years.
Where will they live?
Nobody knows, but the Town of Truckee and many local residents want a clear cut housing plan to coincide with the development of Intrawest at Squaw Valley, and they’re making their views known during the public comment period of Intrawest’s Environmental Impact Report.
In December 1996, Intrawest announced its plans to build an alpine pedestrian village at the base of Squaw Valley in cooperation with Squaw Valley Ski Corp. The village, complete with specialty shops, restaurants, studios and apartments, is in the environmental review stage and has yet to pass final approval.
The Town of Truckee is not satisfied with the EIR document in regards to the housing issue and will present their comments to Placer County following the public review period which ends Monday.
“Our primary concern with the EIR is housing,” said Tony Lashbrook, the community development director for the Town of Truckee. “We had very specific information requests prior to the EIR, now that it’s come out, the information is not in there.”
According to Lashbrook, the EIR document does not specifically address how much employee housing is needed to absorb 450 new workers, where such housing could be located or where land could be acquired to construct new housing.
“It’s not that we’re opposed to Intrawest, the project has a lot of potential benefit to the resort triangle area,” Lashbrook said. “We would just like the EIR to provide more information so we can determine how many housing units are necessary and we will be making those comments to Placer County.”
The Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council will also be sending Placer County the minutes from their last meeting which include many public comments about the EIR in regards to housing.
“We’re very concerned about the housing and we all are sending over our individual comments regarding the plan,” said Molly Kenney, a member of the Squaw Valley MAC. “The EIR doesn’t go far enough on the employee housing side.”
According to Bill Combs, with the Placer County Planning Department, the EIR does identify housing as an impact that has to be mitigated, but no specifics are mentioned in terms of a possible site or the number of units necessary to soak up the employee population increase.
The document, however, does include a mitigation fee that would be paid to Placer County in order to develop a fund for affordable housing.
“We’d be collecting mitigation fees for a housing project,” Combs said. “We’re still working on the exact fee, but it would most likely be a one-time only fee that couldn’t be used for anything else.”
Although specifics for housing are not identified in the EIR, Combs said merely identifying a lack of employee housing as an impact that needs to be mitigated is sufficient for the document; especially since the Intrawest project has yet to receive final approval from the Placer County Planning Commission.
The mitigation fees proposed in the EIR could be used to build a new housing area, Combs said, or even to subsidize employees so they can afford housing that’s already in place.
However, if new housing is eventually built, it probably won’t be located in Squaw Valley.
“There doesn’t seem to be any sites in Squaw Valley, we’ve explored that,” Combs said. “There don’t seem to be any sites that don’t cause complications. There are some areas in Tahoe City, Tahoe Vista and Kings Beach. The Town of Truckee is also a possibility.”
The type of housing the county envisions doesn’t include dormitory-style buildings.
“We expect many of the employees will have families so an apartment-type development is probably what’s appropriate,” Combs said.
Regardless of where or if housing is set up for the new employees, many individuals are concerned about the impact these people will have on local schools, traffic and the community.
“Our concern in the report is that it strictly refers to the impacted area as Squaw Valley,” said Karen Van Epps, trustee for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. “Those schools (in the Squaw district) are the academy, Rideout, the middle and high schools which are not over capacity.”
And if affordable housing is not built in these districts, new employees with families will be looking to move into Kings Beach and Truckee.
“Those schools (Kings Beach and Truckee) are over capacity and can’t take anymore kids,” Van Epps said. “More families would certainly impact the elementary school in Kings Beach. There is no more room for growth or expansion, we’ve bought all the land we can and we can’t house anymore students. We’re trying to meet the needs of the current population.”
However, because of the school bond measure that passed in Truckee, a new high school will be eventually built in the area and Truckee will be able to take in more students. Van Epps suggests Truckee be considered as an area to construct more affordable housing.
But if housing is set up outside of Squaw Valley, that could just add to the traffic congestion as more than 450 employees commute to and from the valley everyday for work.
“Buying property in Kings Beach or Truckee (for housing) just adds to the traffic problem,” Kenney said. “We’re going to have to come up with creative solutions.”
And Kenney has one. She suggests a program where the illegal apartments in Squaw Valley (those that are operated in residential areas only) are made legal following a change in the zoning code. At that point, the mitigation fees from Intrawest could be used to subsidize the owners of these properties to bring them up to code and rent them out. The owners, in exchange for the subsidy, would have to agree to charge a reasonable, affordable rent, Kenney said.
This topic is set as an agenda item for a future Squaw Valley MAC meeting. The next meeting is June 24.
Squaw Valley isn’t Intrawest’s first endeavor, they also have villages in Mammoth, Colorado, British Columbia, Utah and others.
In Mammoth, the village is up and running, but there is definitely a housing shortage.
According to a story in The Mammoth Times, the Town of Mammoth is trying to get a development agreement between the town and Intrawest to have the corporation provide 100 percent of its employee housing. According to the article, during the winter ski season, all employee housing in the area was full and 10 to 15 people a day were forced to fork over a $400 rent deposit just to get on a waiting list for housing.
“Homeless employees are leaving at the rate of four or five a day to go back home because they cannot afford to search for housing any longer,” the story said.
Tom Jacobson, with Intrawest, said the group is committed to working with the county to make sure the impacts of the project are minimized.
“Intrawest is here to mitigate all impacts associated with the project, both positive and negative, including employee housing,” Jacobson said.
According to Jacobson, employee housing cannot actually be built into the village for two reasons: First, “there’s only so much money that can be extracted from a project to make employee housing and still have a viable project. Second, employees typically don’t like to live where they work, that’s the bottom line,” Jacobson said.
So a mitigation fee will be paid in lieu of housing construction.
“I totally support the county and we plan to work with them to make sure our fees are spent in a way that most minimizes the impact to employee housing in the community,” Jacobson said.
The next step in the Intrawest project process is the final approval and the determination of an appropriate mitigation fee, Combs said.
“Once funds are collected, they can be applied toward construction of a project or to provide subsidies for people to pay rent,” Combs said. “The project, however, is still in the early stages of review. It still has to pass environmental review and then there would be a lengthy set of conditions to follow, including housing, before the project can get finalized.”
The public comment period ends Monday and the planning commission will review the comments most likely in August or September.
The entire Intrawest village will take five to seven years to complete once construction begins.
To comment on the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Intrawest development at Squaw Valley, write Senior Planner Bill Combs, Placer County Planning Department, 11414 B. Ave., Auburn, CA 95603 or fax to 889-7499. The deadline for comments is Monday, June 14.a
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