Judge blocks expansion at Tahoe's Homewood ski resort

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 - 12:14 am

A dramatic expansion of a ski resort in the community of Homewood on Lake Tahoe's west shore has been blocked by a Sacramento federal judge.

U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb ruled that Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency sidestepped laws governing the project when they approved a plan that fails to consider a smaller facility.

In a 114-page opinion issued Friday, Shubb said that a combined environmental impact report and environmental impact statement appears to skew the financial outlook of the resort's proposed expansion by failing to consider all streams of income.

Consequently, the judge did not buy the arguments of the resort's owners and a developer that a less ambitious expansion would make the venture fiscally unsound.

Attorneys for the resort owner and its developers – Homewood Village Resorts, LLC and JMA Ventures, LLC – and the county and TRPA could not be reached Monday.

The group has faced a coalition of conservationists and Homewood residents who have pushed for a smaller project at the Homewood Mountain Resort, and ultimately sued the business interests behind the proposed expansion and the government agencies that signed off on it.

Coalition members hailed Shubb's ruling as a vindication of their efforts to protect the beauty and clarity of the lake and the integrity of the scenic basin in which it sits.

Homewood was developed around 1900 as a vacation resort. It is mainly a rustic residential community, with approximately 900 residents.

The resort, opened in 1962, is primarily a "day ski" area because it has no overnight accommodations. Therefore, it attracts very few midweek, multiday skiers.

The resort is currently operating at a significant loss because of its inability to compete with the larger facilities in the region. The proposed project was designed to remedy that.

But, while data supplied by the developer and a consultant include projected profits from increased lift ticket sales, the data "are bereft of projections of the profits that the resort's other" features will contribute, Shubb said.

"Without such comparative data, the economic feasibility of the reduced alternative (known as alternative 6) is unknown beyond the obvious conclusion that it would be less profitable," the judge wrote. "Accordingly, the county's finding that alternative 6 is economically infeasible is not supported by substantial evidence."

Since the project's environmental report relies on the faulty data, its "analysis of alternative 6 is inadequate" under the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, Shubb stated.

For the same reason, he said, the environmental report is "also inadequate" under the Congress-approved Nevada-California compact that governs TRPA's actions on construction around the lake.

The compact requires an environmental impact statement to "(s)tudy, develop and describe appropriate alternatives to recommended courses of action for any project which involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources.

The data at issue said the ski resort needs to increase midweek ticket sales by an average of 400 in order to generate sustainable revenues and, at minimum, cover operating costs.

Alternative 6 would reduce the number of proposed tourist accommodations and residential units by approximately 15 percent – from 336 to 284.

The proposed project, as it stands now, would bring in a projected $670,000 in increased annual revenue. The developer's consultant projects that amount would decrease by $127,609 if alternative 6 is implemented.

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