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Mill site is linchpin of town’s plans

Stefanie Olivieri, Guest column

When the Town of Truckee incorporated it did so for two primary reasons. The first was a general feeling that Nevada County was not returning a fair share of tax money in the form of services provided in the Truckee area, particularly into road maintenance and reconstruction. The second was for local control over land use planning.

The Town of Truckee immediately addressed these two areas, by passing a plan to reconstruct and maintain major roads, and by writing a General Plan. For fundamentally honoring of the public trust in its first few years of existence, the Town should be applauded.

The core of the General Plan, and the Downtown Specific Plan, is the development of a strong and vital downtown area. And the core of the downtown area, as recognized by these documents, is Commercial Row and the Mill Site. The Downtown Specific Plan identifies the Mill Site as the most appropriate site for major development.

Most of the land-use disputes that have erupted in Truckee in the last five years can be directly attributed to the Mill Site as a major component of town planning.

The crux of the PC-2 debate is over the scale and nature of commercial development and whether the scale of development will inhibit development of the Mill Site. The crux of the objection to locating the Town Hall at the airport is that a more appropriate location would be within the downtown core. The crux of the debate over the Barsell project is that expanded uses and scale of development at that site would detract from the overall quality of the Downtown Specific Plan. The crux of the concerns over large-scale development on Hippie Hill is that it would slow down growth in the Downtown Specific Plan area.

The General Plan projects commercial development in Truckee at approximately 500,000 square feet over a period of 20 years. If one were to add up all of the commercial entitlement already granted, or in varying stages of the planning process today, it would total almost 300,000 square feet.

This leads to the logical and critical question: what about the Mill site?

There are two myths about the Mill Site that have circulated around town for years.

The first myth is that the Mill Site is too contaminated to build on. This is based on the assumption that because it was previously used as a lumber mill and railroad yard, that neglect has left it devoid of development potential. There is nothing in the public record to show that this is the case. This myth has been perpetrated by a variety of interests. Some people would prefer to use the power of this myth as leverage for land use entitlement at more remote locations. Others recognize that overcoming obstacles to development could be great and would prefer to allocate resources to less difficult areas.

The truth is that there has never been an adequate level of study on the Mill Site to determine if any contamination exists. If there is contamination, it may constitute a public health risk, and should be dealt with accordingly. Of course we may discover that remediation is easy and all of this delay has been over nothing. A number of contaminated sites or “brownfields” have been successfully developed, providing for economic development and minimizing public safety risks at the same time. The record is replete with just such successful development in communities that have sufficient desire to put together the partners needed to achieve the goal.

The second myth is that Union Pacific is not interested in selling the site. Once again this is a supposition that is unsupported by factual record. Union Pacific has expressed interest in selling the site in the past, and has only expressed concern about how their operations could continue adjacent to a successful development.

As long as we continue to entitle development outside of the downtown core, without a serious consideration of the impacts of that development on the future potential of the Mill Site, we are working contrary to our General Plan. And if we continue to entitle development until there is no market left for development at the Mill Site then we will have done a terrible disservice to the community and lost the opportunity to fulfill the vision expressed in our General Plan.

If it is true that the Mill Site is a dead site, then all of our planning to date has been based on a flawed General Plan. If this is the case it would be justified for the appropriate parties to step forward and show that the emperor has no clothes.

If it is not true that the Mill Site is a dead site, then we need to get on the ball and work proactively to ensure that it is developed.

The Mill Site question will have to be answered for the town to move forward efficiently in its planning process. One way or another, it is time that we asked our public officials and community groups to take the lead to ensure that our planning is based on achievable goals. The Mountain Area Preservation Foundation believes that the citizens of this town have the will and the resources to reach consensus on this issue. We must answer the question: What about the Mill Site?

Stefanie Olivieri is the president of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation.


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