Conservation groups seek to block Tahoe-area development
A coalition of conservation groups is suing to block an approved, 760-home development near Truckee.
The project, known as Martis Valley West, would put the homes and nearly seven acres of commercial development on 670 acres near California State Route 267 south of Interstate 80.
The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in Placer County, asks the court to declare the Placer County Board of Supervisors wrongly approved the project and seeks injunctions blocking work from proceeding.
“There’s a reason why everyone from local residents to the Attorney General opposes this project,” Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch, one of the conservation groups, said in a statement accompanying a copy of the complaint. “It’s a nightmare project and Tahoe deserves better.”
Other groups listed as plaintiffs include League to Save Lake Tahoe and Mountain Area Preservation Federation.
Defendants include Placer County and the Placer County Board of Supervisors.
Blake Riva, managing partner of developer Mountainside Partners, one of the defendants, wouldn’t discuss specifics of the conservation group complaints.
“We have been notified that a lawsuit has been filed by Sierra Watch, Mountain Area Preservation and the League to Save Lake Tahoe as relates to the Martis Valley West Project which was recently approved by Placer County,” Riva said in a written statement. “Sierra Pacific Industries and Mountainside Partners will continue to work closely with Placer County as they prepare a response to the filing.”
A spokesman for Placer County said the county counsel has not yet been served with the suit.
"The county has not been served with this lawsuit and can’t comment on any other lawsuits that might be filed on the Martis Valley West Parcel Specific Plan until such time as the county is served with such a lawsuit," wrote Chris Gray-Garcia, Deputy Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Placer County.
Specifically, the complaint says the defendants didn’t adequately address components of California’s Timberland Productivity Act and the California Environmental Quality Act in approving the project.
They say the approval improperly waived a requirement in the Timberland Act that calls for a 10-year period before rezoning land zoned for timber production.
It also says the defendants should have done more to offset potential damage to Lake Tahoe from additional traffic and how the proposed structures would affect the Tahoe Rim Trail.
“The development is planned in a way that it almost maximizes its potential to generate new car trips,” Mooers said.
He said the project as proposed would generate 3,985 new car trips daily. The result, according to Mooers, would be even greater traffic headaches in an area that’s already known for delays due to residents and visitors driving between I-80 and the Lake Tahoe Basin.
It’s also close to Northstar California Resort, a major ski destination.
Additional traffic is a problem, Mooers said, because gridlock makes Lake Tahoe a less desirable place to live near or visit.
Although the project isn’t in the Tahoe Basin, it’s believed it would generate more than 1,000 new trips into the basin daily which would increase environmental impacts that result in a loss of clarity in the lake.
Closer to the site traffic could contribute to additional gridlock in the event of a wildfire, Mooers said.
“We are just going to make it worse with development like that,” he said.
Developers have already scaled back their original plans with a 2013 pact with conservation groups called the Martis Valley Opportunity.
Under that agreement, Sierra Pacific Industries agreed to surrender rights to develop a portion of more than 6,300 acres of open private land located east of California 267. Keeping that land undeveloped would link some 50,000 acres of contiguous open space between Martis Valley and the Mount Rose Wilderness. Existing zoning could have allowed Sierra Pacific to seek approval to develop as many as 1,360 residential units in the area.
Mooers said the conservation groups aren’t seeking to block the development entirely.
But they do want additional concessions, such as greater connectivity with Northstar so people driving between the development and the resort wouldn’t need to use the 267.
He also said developers should consider using the commercial land to provide businesses that would offer necessities such as groceries so residents wouldn’t need to drive to Truckee for basic purchases.
“I’m optimistic and think we are closer to a shared understanding of what the outcome should be,” he said.