After numerous back-and-forth debates over whether the Tahoe Forest Hospital District’s proposed master plan should be included in the Town of Truckee’s 2040 General Plan, the town council voted on May 9 to adopt the document without the district’s long-term strategy for growth.
The lingering question: what the health system plans to do about the lack of inclusion.
In the months leading up to the general plan adoption, TFHD’s executive staff and board members, alongside those in the community, expressed vocal frustration about the absence of the master plan. Without the general plan’s analysis of the healthcare system’s new master plan, there is fear that zoning and allowable uses will disrupt TFHD’s need for expanded services and parking structures. A community survey conducted by TFHD between April 24 and May 2 found three out of five residents contacted preferred the hospital’s inclusion.
However, “the hospital master plan is still incomplete,” wrote Jen Callaway, Truckee town manager, in an email. “There is simply not enough information on the master plan to share with the public or for it to be included in the GP in any meaningful way. As the entity that governs land use and serves as guardians of community character in the context of development and overall quality of life, we have an obligation to give the community the chance to review the specifics. Simply put, the community has the right to weigh in first.”
Town representatives have been clear that recirculating the general plan, which cost $1.73 million in general fund and grant money to prepare, with the master plan’s inclusion will take longer than TFHD pursuing its goals separately.
“It’s a little odd to be sitting here trying to act in the hospital’s best interest on matters of which the town is more intimately familiar: the processing of the master plan through the town’s procedures,” said Councilmember Jan Zabriskie at the May 9 meeting. “Yet the hospital is taking an opposing view.”
Part of hospital staff’s frustration centers around what they see as a silent departure by the town regarding the proposed master plan. “As the town was making plans for meeting the needs of its residents over the next several decades, it only makes sense that our community’s healthcare and medical needs should have been considered at the same time,” shared Ted Owens, TFHD executive director of governance and business development, in an email. “Tahoe Forest Hospital was included in initial drafts of the Town of Truckee’s general plan update but was removed without transparency, public discussion, or consultation with the hospital. Given five years of delays, we did not want to delay local healthcare access and needs of the community any longer [by not expanding services to meet rising demand].”
Callaway pointed out that the hospital itself is included in the 2040 General Plan, just as it was in the 2025 plan. “What is not included,” she explained, “is the specific details of the hospital’s own master plan because it is incomplete and details necessary to include the plan in the general plan have not been provided.”
A Jan. 26, 2023, 12-page letter (linked here) from the town to the hospital district outlines the information needed to complete TFHD’s application, including development permits, a tentative map, zoning details, lingering development code deviation questions, and more.
The two entities disagree on what happened along the way. Town staff says the hospital first informed them of its 20-year plan four years ago, and when asked to become involved in the general plan process, TFHD declined. Owens said that in initial conversations between the hospital district and town regarding weaving TFHD’s future campus expansion into the 2040 General Plan, town staff advised the district to pursue a separate master plan process as it would be the more expedient route. The understanding by the hospital being that the master plan numbers and baselines would be incorporated into the general plan, but not passed in conjunction with it.
A formal application for the master plan was submitted to the town by TFHD in March 2022 but, per the town, remains incomplete. Owens said hospital staff is working through the town’s response. The town issued its formal response, the afore-mentioned letter, on Jan. 26, though numerous exchanges of information took place between the two entities in the interim.
The hospital’s master plan goals include addressing the growing community with expanded access to care and parking stalls. It requests zoning changes and development permits, and proposes new parking structures, 10 new or expanded buildings, 24 new staff and workforce housing units, as well as new roadway alignments, including a Donner Pass Road roundabout at Pine Street. “In the last six years alone, our district has had an increase of 64,000 patient visits — over a 50% increase — leading to an increased demand for healthcare services and longer wait times,” Owens said.
Callaway says the proposal is “one of, if not the biggest, expansion of a public facility that the town of Truckee has ever seen.”
A May 10 special board meeting of hospital directors revealed conference with legal counsel and possible initiation of litigation, though there was no reportable action and no indication of the specific topic. While it is not clear whether TFHD is pursuing legal action against the Town of Truckee, multiple people speculated to Moonshine Ink that might be the case.
In his public comment the day before the TFHD special board meeting, Truckee Planning Commissioner Daniel Fraiman said, “I think litigation on the general plan is not good for our community; it is not in the best interest of our community. Specifically for the hospital to sue the town over the general plan will set things really sideways. I would encourage council to work with the hospital and the hospital to work with council to get over that hurdle and move forward.”
In response to the Ink’s question on the legal matter, Owens stated, “Our utmost concern is the health of our community and local families. We have a moral responsibility to assess all options to ensure the healthcare our community depends on.”
The town and hospital are nudging forward with next steps: $35,000 out of Truckee’s capital improvement budget has been offered to assist TFHD’s finishing its application, but as of publishing, the hospital has not stated whether it will accept the offer. TFHD’s environmental impact report on the proposed expansion will be shared in the next 30 to 60 days, which will allow public review opportunities.
“The district is continuing to work with the town to find a solution for our community’s local healthcare needs and we are assessing all available options for moving forward,” Owens said.