Groups unveil agreement to preserve thousands of acres of Martis Valley

Published: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 6:20 am

Nearly 6,400 acres of land in the scenic Martis Valley between Truckee and Lake Tahoe would be preserved under an agreement announced Wednesday among conservation groups, landowners and developers.

The pine forests and sagebrush meadows to be protected flow down the slopes of Martis Peak, which borders the Tahoe basin and has striking views of Lake Tahoe and Donner Summit.

If Placer County officials approve the deal, the land, now owned by lumber giant Sierra Pacific Industries, would be the largest parcel yet preserved in an effort to protect the 70-square-mile Martis Valley from large-scale development.

"This is the biggest piece of the conservation puzzle in Martis Valley," said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch. The conservation group helped negotiate the agreement and previously has been involved in similar deals in Martis Valley, including preservation of the 1,400-acre Waddle Ranch.

The efforts came about after Placer County approved the Martis Valley Community Plan in 2003. The plan would have allowed 6,000 homes along with commercial and recreational development on the county's 45-square-mile section of the valley, once home to cattle ranches.

Sierra Watch challenged the plan, winning a court order in 2005 to suspend development. Since then it has negotiated with individual landowners and developers to allow limited development in designated areas while opening once-private lands to hiking and other public uses.

Developer fees that have been part of the agreements have helped pay to preserve the open spaces.

The land now owned by Sierra Pacific Industries was slated for more than 1,360 housing units under the Martis Valley Community Plan. But Wednesday's agreement calls for reducing that number to 760 units and moving the development area from the northeast side of Highway 267, which is largely open space, to the southwest side of the highway, which is partially developed and near the Northstar ski resort.

"It's a real positive thing for the community overall," said Mark Pawlicki, spokesman for Sierra Pacific Industries. The company would like to sell the land, which has been used mainly for logging, he said.

Mooers said conservationists hope to raise funds and buy the land from Sierra Pacific, as they have with other large parcels in Martis Valley and on Donner Summit.

Other parties to the agreement included environmental nonprofit group Mountain Area Preservation, based in Truckee, and East West Partners, a major developer at Northstar.

"This agreement represents a major accomplishment for the entire Tahoe-Truckee Region," said Alexis Ollar, executive director of Mountain Area Preservation, in a written statement. "Combined with previous conservation successes in Martis Valley, it ensures preservation of 50,000 contiguous acres of open space."

East West and Sierra Pacific will file an application with Placer County to amend the county's Martis Valley plan, the statement said.

If approved, East West will work with Sierra Pacific to develop its land near Northstar, said senior partner Blake Riva. He said market demand would determine the mix and type of housing.

"We think this is a very unique set of circumstances whereby a diverse group of parties is working together in terms of a conservation initiative," Riva said. "If we're successful in our efforts going forward, we will have created a special legacy for the Martis Valley."

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