As the details of Squaw Valley’s plans to expand its village are rolled out, residents and environmental organizations are becoming concerned about the size and scope of the project. The Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan, which covers the resort’s entire parking lot, would quadruple the number of residential and tourist accommodation units as well as add an adventure center and water park. Critics of the project worry that the expansion would alter the character of the valley, changing it from a mountain beloved by locals into a ski area-turned-amusement park intended largely for visitors. Squaw Valley, however, says the project is necessary to attract both skiers and non-skiers year round to the valley, transforming the area into a destination resort as outlined in Squaw’s community plan.

Squaw Valley’s Village expansion plans cover 100 acres adjacent to the existing village. The project, which is to be built over 12 to 15 years in four phases, calls for 1,300 condominium and hotel units, 29,000-square feet of commercial space and restaurants, and a 132,000-square- foot Mountain Adventure and Aquatic Center. If approved, Squaw would like to start construction on Phase I, which includes four buildings as well as the adventure and aquatic center on 26 acres, in 2014.

Judy Carini, a 37-year full-time resident of Squaw Valley, is deeply worried about the size of the Village project and its impacts.

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“The massiveness of the project — it’s going to cover every available inch of land they own with something, some sort of structure,” she said. “Now Squaw is very open and flowing and pleasant.”

It’s the loss of that “pleasantness” that has Squaw residents wringing their hands. They worry about the amount of traffic a larger village and adventure center will bring to the valley, which has only one way in and out.
“We are concerned about the results, about the number of people that will be here at one time; it could be overload,” Carini said. “If they build all the phases, I think it’s going to get to the point that so many people are here, it’s too crowded.”

It is the fear that Squaw could lose its community character forever that has residents most worried, however. With plans to tear down the members’ locker room and alter day skier parking while adding an 80,000-square-foot indoor water park that includes a lazy river, slides, and surfing pool, locals wonder if Squaw will cease to be a skiers’ mountain.

“I am really worried about changing this to a Disneyland resort with nothing for the locals,” said Ed Heneveld, a 30-year Squaw resident and member of the Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council, SVMAC, and Friends of Squaw Creek, who applauds the developers for planning to restore parts of the creek. “What’s in it for the community except for 15 years of construction?”

In response to the Village project, at the end of October Carini and eight other Squaw residents formed the Friends of Squaw Valley, whose mission is “to advocate for environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and aesthetically compatible development in Squaw Valley while preserving its community character.” The group had 30 homeowners sign on at a public scooping meeting at the Resort at Squaw Creek on Nov. 1. John Shanser, one of the founding members of the Friends of Squaw Valley, said the organization will probably continue to grow. He collected more emails from interested residents that same night at a standing-room-only meeting of the SVMAC, which discussed the project’s notice of preparation.

Maureen O’Keefe is a member of the SVMAC, which has been receiving updates from Squaw Valley on the project for the past five months. She said she has been hearing a lot of trepidation from residents about the crowds and traffic the project could generate, as well as concerns about building height and day parking.

She has also received letters from residents worried that Squaw’s plans to build the Timberline Twister, a bobsled-like roller coaster, coupled with plans for the Mountain Adventure and Aquatic Center, will turn the valley into a giant amusement park. (The twister is not part of the village expansion plan but a stand-alone project. It would be built between the Far East and Red Dog lifts.) But O’Keefe is realistic.

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“I like Squaw being a sleepy, quiet place but I understand that a business wants to be successful,” she said.

“How many rights do we have to stop them from doing it? I can see why things have to change, but does it have to be this big?”

One thing that could impede opponents’ efforts to curb the size of the Village expansion is Squaw Valley’s community plan. Last updated in 1983, the plan does not impose any height restrictions. The Village project originally called for buildings up to 12 stories high (the existing Village is four stories), although Squaw recently lowered the height of two of the tallest buildings to six stories, or 95 feet, in response to public feedback. The tallest building is now eight stories.

One environmental organization that is closely watching the Village project is Truckee’s Mountain Area Preservation. Alexis Ollar, MAP executive director, said the nonprofit has concerns about the project’s impact to scenic resources and the valley’s outdated community plan. Ollar and others worry that this project will inadvertently dictate the valley’s land use policy, in essence updating the community plan, without direct community involvement.

“They are going to expand the uses no matter what,” Ollar said. “So we have to focus on environmental resources and that the community element stays in line with the character of the community.”

MAP is also paying close attention to the groundwater studies that the developer is currently undertaking. Since the valley’s existing wells do not produce enough water to support the project, Squaw has spent close to $1 million over the past year trying to prove that the water supply is there.

“Our initial science was positive and said we should pursue the village development,” said Chevis Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Valley Real Estate LLC, which is under KSL Capital Partners, the owners of Squaw Valley. “The supply just needs to be managed appropriately.”

Possible solutions Squaw has come up with are focused on irrigation, since that is a major water use in the dry summer months: using their own on-mountain snowmaking wells, implementing a grey-water system, or drilling an irrigation well in the east end of the valley that produces only non-potable water.

As for resident concerns about the Disneyfication of Squaw Valley, Hosea says it’s a necessary move to attract year-round visitors.

“The Basin has more visitors in the summer than in winter; we need a reason for them to come and enjoy Squaw Valley,” he said. “We think it [Mountain Adventure and Aquatic Center] would become a significant regional attraction.”

By creating a destination resort, it will also reduce traffic in winter, according to Hosea, since people won’t be coming and leaving at the same time. Converting Squaw into a destination resort has always been the intention of the community, at least according to the community plan, Hosea said.

“Squaw Valley was always designed to be a resort. Almost the entire area was designed village-commercial, it’s just never been developed,” he said. “It was always intended to be a dynamic resort environment. We are just trying to pursue our private property rights.”

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Author

  • Melissa Siig

    Melissa Siig ditched international politics in Washington, D.C. in 2001 to move to Tahoe, where she quickly found her true calling — journalism. She has written for regional and national publications, and enjoys writing about community issues and quirky human interest stories. When not at her keyboard, she is busy wrangling her three children, co-running Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, or playing outside.

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