Some still wary of Martis Valley land swap, development plan

Martis Valley land swap-photo[courtesy of Tahoe Daily Tribune / Margaret Moran]

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Locals are voicing environmental concerns over a project that developers and conservation groups say will be responsible for protecting thousands of acres of land in the heart of the Sierra.

As part of a plan finalized last fall by landowner Sierra Pacific Industries, its development partner East West Partners, Sierra Watch and Mountain Area Preservation, land-use designations for parcels located east and west of Highway 267 would switch.

Currently, 670 acres on the 6,376-acre east parcel is zoned for residential and commercial development under the Martis Valley Community Plan, according to Placer County, which allows for 1,360 residential units and 6.6 acres of commercial uses.

The project — dubbed Martis Valley Opportunity — proposes those 670 acres be rezoned to preserve all 6,376 acres forever, either by selling the property to conservation groups or through a conservation easement.

“It will add a significant block of private land to an existing protected area that will be open to the public for recreational use and conservation,” Mark Pawlicki, spokesman for Sierra Pacific Industries, said in a statement. “Combined with previous conservation success in Martis Valley, it ensures preservation of over 50,000 contiguous acres of open space.”

In conjunction, 775 acres of the approximately 1,192-acre west parcel, which is adjacent to Northstar California, are proposed to be rezoned from “timberland production” to residential and neighborhood commercial, allowing for up to 760 residential units and 6.6 acres of commercial uses.

The west parcel includes 112.8 acres in the Lake Tahoe Basin, 85.3 acres of which would be developable.

Tahoe Vista resident Ellie Waller is among those critical of the project, saying it would set a bad precedent for development in the Sierra.

“East West Partners … has put environmentalist/conservationists at odds by making a deal with the devil to save 6,000-plus acres in the Martis Valley at the expense of … building upon 112 acres on the ridge of Lake Tahoe,” she said. “… I believe the project proposal represents an expansion of the urban boundary of Lake Tahoe by proposing this development on the ridge.”

Blake Riva, senior partner of East West Partners, said that of the maximum 760 residential units proposed, which would include a mix of single-family homes, townhomes/multiplexes and cabins, roughly 100 would be in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The ultimate mix of units would be based on site characteristics and market conditions.

In addition, commercial development, consisting of homeowner amenities, recreational services and retail, is envisioned, Riva said, and would be designed to support residents rather than attract visitors.

Pawlicki added that the proposed development would be on a smaller parcel next to an area already developed (Northstar), while preserving land next to dedicated open space. It also reduces the allowed units by 600, from 1,360 to 760.

“It’s a trade-off,” he said.

But that trade-off is something Ann Nichols, president of the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, doesn’t support.

“The justification is a conservation easement on 6,000 acres outside the Lake Tahoe Basin on the east side of Highway 267,” she said in statement. “I guess if you save land in New York City you get to build at Tahoe. Talk about a dangerous precedent.”

Acreage in the basin would fall under Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s jurisdiction, while Placer County will review the rest, the only exception being 216 acres in Nevada County.

The project is starting the environmental review process, with county and TRPA review and a Placer County Board of Supervisors vote ahead, Riva said, potentially an 18- to 24-month process.

“East West Partners is looking forward to a collaborative effort that results in the vision for the Martis Valley Opportunity becoming a reality,” he said in a statement. “A diverse group of stakeholders has worked diligently together to get to this point, and we hope to continue this positive relationship as we proceed through the public process. Collectively, we have a truly unique opportunity to achieve something quite remarkable from a conservation perspective in Martis Valley.”

If approved, construction on the west parcel would be done in phases, with buildout occurring over 25 years, according to Placer County.

Martis Valley encompasses approximately 44,800 acres in the Sierra Nevada, with natural features such as Martis Creek, Dry Lake, steep terrain and forested areas.