In 2003, much to the horror of the public, developers destroyed 12 natural sand dunes unique to Lake Tahoe to build Tonopalo, 19 luxury condominiums on the shores of Tahoe Vista. Last year, the new owners of Royal Gorge outraged residents with their plans for Donner Summit – 950 new residences and a new downhill ski area connecting to Sugar Bowl, all in the sleepy community of Serene Lakes.
Could JMA Ventures, which bought Homewood Mountain Resort in 2006, be different?
It depends on who you talk to.
In a time when developers often ignore public and environmental concerns in the pursuit of the bottom line, JMA is promising to build a project that will benefit both the community and its natural surroundings. The San Francisco-based company, which held around two dozen public meetings to gather community feedback, hopes to revitalize the languishing Homewood ski area as well as adhere to stringent green building guidelines in redeveloping the resort. While some residents say JMA’s proposal for Homewood is just what the area needs to stay relevant, others are critical about the project’s size.
The Plan: Lodges and Condos
JMA Executive Vice President David Tirman, who is based in Truckee, said that the company decided early on that to make the ski resort viable, it needed to become a destination resort.
‘Homewood had no bed base whatsoever,’ Tirman said. ‘We felt there was an opportunity to create a bed base and a destination – to give visitors the option to stay two, three or four days, or a week at a time.’
To help identify the look and feel of the new resort, JMA turned to the public. Over the course of one year, the company held 20 public meetings and workshops, meeting with West Shore homeowners associations and civic organizations like the Rotary Club. Tirman estimates that they probably talked to over 1,000 people.
‘It was critical to have public input,’ he said. ‘It leads to a better plan.’
Out of those workshops came a picture of what people wanted – a community-gathering place and an architecture that was authentic to Homewood and Tahoe. The company spent two months pouring over photos of historical lodges that once stood in Homewood and the West Shore, as well as other American West lodges like The Ahwahnee in Yosemite. Once the look of the new resort was established, JMA laid out the conceptual plan for Homewood’s three different areas, which will be built in two phases.
In the first phase, the current North Base lodge located off Highway 89 will be replaced by an 180,000-square foot main lodge, which will house a restaurant, bar and lobby area. The lodge will also include 50 to 60 hotel rooms, a full-service spa and fitness center, 42 two-bedroom condominiums and 30 penthouse units for sale. There will be underground parking and a small retail center with a grocery store, hardware store, ice cream parlor and coffee shop.
‘This will be a neighborhood shopping center, a gathering place,’ Tirman said. ‘It was one of the things the community said they wanted instead of driving to Tahoe City.’
The plans call for day-skier parking to be confined to a two-level parking garage at the North Base, which will be hidden from the street by 12 workforce housing units. A 1,500-seat amphitheater will be the new permanent home for the Lake Tahoe Music Festival, and an ice skating pond will be constructed at the base of the gondola that will take skiers to the new mid-mountain lodge.
The 14,000-square foot mid-mountain lodge, which will be built on the site of the existing structure, is also part of the first phase. The lodge, which will house the gondola terminal, a restaurant and a pool free to Homewood residents, is the only development slated for the mountain. All other building will occur at the base on already-developed areas.
The second phase, planned for the South Base near Tahoe Ski Bowl Way, is completely residential. It calls for 120 two-story condos. Day skiers will no longer have access to this area, which JMA says will reduce traffic at this part of the resort.
Tirman cautions that the entire project will not be built at once. The number of residential units constructed will depend on the market, and JMA is just starting the environmental review process, which will take a couple of years. At best, Tirman estimates, the company will break ground in 2010.
‘This isn’t all happening overnight,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be a gradual plan.’
While JMA is years away from the permitting process, it has submitted the Homewood development to be part of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Community Enhancement Program (CEP). The CEP, which is part of Pathway 2007, recognizes revitalization projects that demonstrate environmental, social and economic benefits.
‘We are hoping that these projects serve as models for the kinds of development and redevelopment projects in Lake Tahoe that have environmental benefits and gains, and revitalize blighted parts of the community,’ said Julie Regan, TRPA spokeswoman.
The TRPA board of directors will decide in February whether or not to admit Homewood into the CEP.
In addition to focusing development on disturbed areas, the company is making a concerted effort to follow strict environmental practices. One of the first things JMA did after acquiring Homewood Mountain was to address a long-standing water run-off problem in both the North and South Base parking lots. The company installed a filtration system in the two parking areas to collect and clean water of sediments before discharging the water into the lake. Although the filtration project cost JMA $600,000, it will have to be taken out when construction on the new resort begins. Tirman said that the plan is for a new filtration system that will recycle water by pumping captured water back up the mountain for snowmaking.
In an effort to further reduce water run-off issues, JMA began work in 2006 on converting half a million square feet of old mining roads to their natural state. So far, 60,000 square feet of roads have been restored. The company also started a fuels management program to reduce the dangers of wildfire. Since 2006, it has thinned 400 of 1,200 acres.
According to Tirman, JMA plans to implement other green building practices such as solar energy and micro-hydro electric power.
The first phase of the Homewood project has been accepted for a LEED for Neighborhood Development program, which recognizes developments that protect and enhance a community’s health, environment and quality of life. The program looks at projects that promote energy efficiency and water use, reduce vehicle miles traveled and create jobs and services that are accessible by foot or public transit.
‘We are providing bike and pedestrian pathways, protected transit stops and alternative fuel vehicles,’ Tirman said. ‘And we are looking into a dial-a-ride shuttle system.’
Renovation and Recycling
Why is JMA putting forth so much time and money to protect the environment? Tirman said that it all ties in to the company’s philosophy. Founded in 1984 by Art Chapman and two other partners, JMA has focused on buying historic, distressed properties and restoring them. One of its most famous acquisitions is San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square in 2004. Last summer, the company purchased Alpine Meadows Ski Resort and two disturbed, vacant lots in downtown Truckee where the company plans to build the Hotel Avery, a 35-room boutique hotel.
Breathing life back into a ski resort, Tirman said, is not that different from fixing up old buildings.
‘Homewood fits into that same philosophy of acquiring older, established properties and upgrading them,’ he said.
Tirman said that environmental improvements coincide with the idea behind renovation.
‘Historic restoration is the purest form of sustainable development because you are reusing, making use of existing materials,’ he said. ‘It’s a form of recycling.’
While residents applaud the environmental improvements JMA has done, as well as its sustainable building practices, feelings about the project are mixed. Some community members see the development as a necessity for Homewood’s economic survival. Without redevelopment, much-needed hotel rooms and an improved ski resort, they say, visitors will stop coming to Homewood.
‘Our product is old… and the area is blighted and beat up,’ said Ron Parson, the general manager and president of Granlibakken Resort and a member of the West Shore Association. ‘Without a new injection of money, the area is going to die.’
David Powell, a member of the Homewood Homeowners Associations board of directors, agrees with Parson. Powell, who has been skiing at Homewood since 1968 and attended several of JMA’s presentations, said that he is in favor of any project that will help the ski resort stay in business.
‘The general notion that someone is going to come in and do what it takes to make the resort economically viable is a positive with me,’ he said.
Where Powell takes issue with the project, however, is the size. He is not convinced that the project needs to be as big as it is to be economically viable. Powell said he is waiting to pass judgment until the project is finalized.
The North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance, however, is taking a more aggressive approach. A community advocacy organization, the NTCAA is critical of JMA for glossing over the real estate portion of the development in public meetings.
‘JMA concentrated a lot on the ski area, and the community jumps up and down, and I can’t blame them,’ said NTCAA President Jerry Wotel. ‘But Art (Chapman) never talked about the real estate development, which has the biggest impact on the community.’
Wotel said that it wasn’t until the NTCAA held a public meeting in September, where it invited JMA to discuss only the real estate side of the project, that it got some concrete answers about the actual number of condos being proposed. Wotel said he would like to see that number cut in half. Otherwise, he worries about the negative impact an increase in cars and people will have on the community character and infrastructure capacity. In particular, the NTCAA is concerned about where the development is going to find sufficient water supply to serve hundreds more people in the winter and summer, as well as have enough water for fire fighting.
‘The whole thing is about reducing the size. We have a feeling they can still make money,’ Wotel said. ‘If they’re really concerned for the community, they’ll take that into account.’
In their defense, JMA said that the initial plan called for even more residential units, but that number was cut. The company does not plan on making any further reductions.
‘It’s a bit of a balancing act between having a viable project and one that works well with the landscape,’ Tirman said. ‘We feel we’re at that point.’