Roger Wittenberg is a self-proclaimed geek. A chemist by training, Wittenberg gets excited when he talks about environmental technology like cellulose insulation, pervious concrete and water collection systems.

‘For me, this is the fun part, the part of what attracted me to this project,’ said Wittenberg, who has made his fortune creating companies that recycle materials, like Trex, Coza Insulation and fabric company Tahoe LLC.

The project Wittenberg is talking about is the Boulder Bay Resort & Wellness Center, a redevelopment project in Crystal Bay located on the site of the Tahoe Biltmore and the empty lot where the Tahoe Mariner Casino used to stand. Wittenberg, who is the Boulder Bay president and CEO, wants to create a state-of-the-art hotel and spa that plays down gaming and instead highlights health and the environment. The project, which has been in the works for two years, has evolved from its original design to the current one as a result of community input.

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Wittenberg, who lives in Incline Village, saw Crystal Bay’s potential every time he drove through the area.

‘Seeing the continued decline of this neighborhood and having a pretty good sense of what could be done, I found the opportunity irresistible,’ he said.

For a geek like Wittenberg, all it would take was a marriage of science, technology and construction to improve the area, both aesthetically and environmentally.

‘Knowing the science is there and the site is so deteriorated, surely we could put it all together and make it better,’ he said. ‘A new, larger facility will use less energy and water than the current facility does.’

Wittenberg plans to achieve this by incorporating all the latest green technology, such as low water consumption utilities, water collection for irrigation, living roofs, energy efficiency technologies (such as on-demand water heaters, motions sensor lighting and energy-efficient appliances) that will result in a 38 percent reduction in energy use compared to the Biltmore, and improving water quality by designing infiltration and storage systems for a 100-year storm (TRPA only requires systems that can capture a 20-year storm). Currently, with every large storm about 30,000 pounds of sediment washes off the site and into the lake. Boulder Bay’s new infiltration system could reduce that to zero.

‘That is pretty significant,’ said Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokesman Dennis Oliver. ‘They are taking a 1940s-era, not very efficient building and replacing it with something that is state-of-the-art.’

Wittenberg has also listened to the public. Over two years, Boulder Bay has held eight public meetings, 80 individual community meetings, three community open houses and distributed a monthly e-newsletter to over 450 people. As a result of public input, in May the developers changed the overall design. A full floor was removed from every building except the condominiums, and an entire wing was taken off the condos and hotel. They also redesigned the architecture to reflect a more historic Tahoe alpine style, increased park space to over four acres and reduced the building square footage by 20 percent and the commercial square footage by 25 percent.

‘What’s really unique about this project is you get a sense that the community is really involved,’ Wittenberg said

The proposed project, which is working toward a Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, includes a 300-room, four-story hotel; 59 condos; a 20,000-square foot spa; 20,000-square foot conference space; 20,000-square feet of retail and dining with 14 affordable housing units above; a four-story, 10,000-square foot casino (a 20,000 square foot reduction from the Biltmore) and underground parking.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement was released Nov. 5 and will be open for public comment until Feb. 4, a 30-day extension from the original deadline. Agencies like the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, which has been critical of the development, requested an extension due to the size of the 1,500-page EIS.

The League, which has not yet taken an official stance on the project, says it needs time to review the lengthy document and formulate a position. However, LSLT Project Director Carl Young says the organization does have concerns.

‘We have always felt the scale of the project is enormous,’ he said. ‘It’s one of the largest projects proposed in Tahoe in the past decade.’

However, opposition to the project appears to be diminishing. On Nov. 18, the TRPA held its first public hearing in Incline Village on the Boulder Bay development. According to Oliver, around 100 people attended. Out of the 38 people that spoke, 32 were in favor of the project.

You can view the Boulder Bay draft EIS at trpa.org and boulderbayresort.com. Hard copies are available at the Tahoe City, Kings Beach and Incline Village libraries and at the front desk of the Biltmore.

~ Discuss this article with the author. Email msiig@moonshineink.com.

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