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Sprawl Harms Us All!

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By ALEXIS OLLAR

The difference between good and bad land use planning is quite stark. Responsible development takes into account environmental constraints, sensitive biological species, the viewshed, public safety, our night sky, wildfire hazards, and ways to protect our region’s unique and fragile resources. On the flip side, poor planning equals sprawl and environmental disasters for the community and our natural resources, underscoring why Mountain Area Preservation (MAP) is fighting the illegal approval of the Martis Valley West (MVW) development. Sprawl costs the U.S. economy roughly $600 billion a year in direct costs related to inefficient land usage and car dependency, with another $400 billion of indirect costs due to traffic congestion, air pollution, and other environmental factors.

For 30 years MAP has advocated for responsible land use and the preservation of open space. We have encouraged and negotiated with developers to consider the environmental limitations of our landscape, while advocating for the needs of the community. Through the planning process we focus on benefits such as workforce housing, traffic mitigation, and the preservation of special places. Sadly, we see few proposals that respect smart growth principles or address community concerns. While no development proposal is perfect, there are ways to respect the environment and provide benefits through an inclusive planning process.

The Railyard project at the old mill site in the heart of downtown Truckee has taken a thoughtful approach, working with the community and environmental stakeholders such as MAP to address and mitigate concerns. The Railyard is an infill project, next to existing development and infrastructure. At the other end of the spectrum is MVW, the epitome of sprawl, locating 760 units plus 6.6 acres of commercial development on pristine forestland adjacent to Brockway Summit. The site has no existing infrastructure and the closest neighborhood is in Kings Beach. This example of bad land use planning is a net loss for everyone.

Smart growth proposals such as the Railyard address accessibility by integrating sidewalks, bikeways, and public transit. MVW is a car-dependent project, adding thousands of new vehicle trips per day onto Highway 267, an already impacted roadway with gridlocked traffic in peak seasons. MVW further compounds this issue by proposing its only point of access to be off 267, where a roundabout or traffic signal is not allowed due to the extreme grade of the road. A ridgeline development with steep slopes and a densely forested hillside in a high-severity fire danger zone is a land use nightmare for everyone. All it takes is one accident to shut 267 down, creating public safety hazards for locals and visitors. We have already experienced how a fire off I-80 brought traffic to a halt on 267 this summer, and increasing 267 to four lanes from Truckee to Brockway Summit will not alleviate these issues either, given the topographical constraints and the bottleneck at each end of the roadway.

The Sierra Nevada is too special to allow the effects of poor planning to infringe on our natural resources, public safety, and our quality of life. It’s distressing that the world-renowned beauty and rural character of the Truckee/Tahoe region is threatened by sprawl, typically a suburban problem. Thoughtful development enhances communities, bad development pulls them apart. MAP is currently fighting the approval of the MVW project in court, hoping for a better outcome for all.

To learn more about how sprawl harms everyone and how to get involved with MAP, go to protectourmountains.org.

~ Alexis Ollar is the Mountain Area Preservation executive director.

 
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The Opinion Page is your place to spout off. This section contains letters to the editor and longer My Shot pieces. Also, the Spout features two bimonthly perspectives — In the Past, delving into Tahoe Truckee history, and In the Moment, an artistic musing of a moment today.

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August 10, 2017