A proposed expansion of Squaw Valley USA would create “significant and unavoidable” effects on scenery, noise and traffic at the mountain resort near Lake Tahoe, according to a draft Placer County report released last month.
In a project expected to take 25 years to complete, Colorado-based KSL Capital Partners LLC plans to build hotels, condos, an indoor recreational facility, shops and more at the ski resort that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. The expansion would add 10, 100-foot-tall buildings to the Sierra Nevada skyline.
Environmentalists say the draft environmental impact report shows the project should not be built as proposed.
“It threatens everything we love about the Sierra Nevada,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch, a Nevada City nonprofit that often opposes large-scale development in the region. “It’s like nothing Tahoe has seen before.”
The 2,000-page draft report contains a long list of expected environmental impacts, and in many cases would require the developer to offset them, such as adding screens to offset the visual distraction of construction. The Placer County Board of Supervisors will be asked to approve the report.
Sierra Watch has enlisted a team of experts to review the draft report and respond to the county’s assessment, Mooers said. Environmentalists often use such impact reviews to push changes to development proposals, either by working with government officials or by challenging the reviews in court.
But executives at the ski resort counter that they’ve already scaled back the proposal by 50 percent and made major design changes in response to community opposition. Chevis Hosea, the company’s vice president for development, said the expansion is needed to make Squaw Valley USA a year-round attraction instead of just a winter ski resort.
The draft report says the proposed height of the buildings has been a source of controversy and acknowledges they would create a visual distraction during construction.
Though the buildings would block views of the lower slopes, their conformance with surrounding architecture means “the proposed project would not substantially detract from or degrade scenic vistas” once construction is complete, the report concludes.
Mooers takes a different view, saying the high-rises would clash with existing Tahoe architecture.
Construction noise would create another significant impact, the report says, during the 25-year building period. Hosea said the construction period is based on previous growth in the area, including during the recession, and said it could be as short as 15 years. Construction can only occur during half of the year because of the weather, he said.
The expansion would bring more visitors, increasing traffic in an area already suffering from congestion on Highway 89, the report says. Hosea said such effects are a given in a growing resort community.
The public has until July 17 to comment on the report. The Placer County Board of Supervisors will eventually have to vote on the report and other aspects of the planned expansion.
However, residents of the Olympic Valley community, who are trying to incorporate, say they would have regulatory authority over the expansion if they’re successful in their bid to become a town. County officials say that’s true only for issues that arise after incorporation.
The Placer County Local Agency Formation Commission, made up of local elected officials, will have to sign off on the incorporation before it goes to a vote of community residents for final approval. Squaw Valley USA opposes incorporation, Hosea said, because the incorporation effort started in response to the expansion plan.
Since then, Hosea noted, Squaw Valley has reduced the number of proposed new bedrooms from 3,000 to 1,500. The company also changed the proposed design so that it would match the style of the existing Squaw Valley Village, a residential and commercial complex at the base of the ski mountain.
The expansion would add two more villages, one with commercial and residential development near the ski slopes, and another called Village Neighborhood, with residences and smaller commercial services, farther away from general ski traffic.
A central part of the expansion, Hosea said, is the Mountain Adventure Camp, a 1,000-foot tall and 90,000-square-foot facility with pools and other amenities. He said the indoor-outdoor facility, which is still in the conceptual stage, is essential to attracting visitors to Squaw Valley in the summer and providing winter entertainment besides skiing.