1,400-bedroom Squaw Valley redevelopment proposal moves forward

Rendering of proposed Squaw Valley redevelopment | Courtesy Squaw Valley Real Estate

It's Northern California's Olympic treasure, but more than 50 years after Squaw Valley hosted the winter games, the ski resort's CEO says it's time for an upgrade.

"For us to be competitive, we need the quality and variety of lodging that we're contemplating here." Andy Wirth said Squaw Valley has been a preeminent destination for skiiers for about four decades, but they need more rooms. "We're at a bit of a deficit right now competing with the great resorts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming."

That's why Squaw Valley officials proposed a redevelopment project to the Placer County Planning Commission on Thursday. It would allow officials to build more than 1,400 bedrooms on 94 acres of land, along with areas for retail, restaurants, and recreational activities over a 25-year period.

92 percent of the development would replace about 80 acres of parking lot. Wirth said, "It's 50-year-old asphalt. We think that could be something better."

Hundreds of people gave their input about the project at the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday. While Squaw Valley representatives believe the proposed addition will enhance the north Tahoe area, opponents believe an expansion will have negative effects.

"People come to the mountains for peace and quiet. Well there would be 25 years of construction and even beyond that there would be noise from all the traffic." Tom Mooers is the executive director of Sierra Watch. He posed the question, "What is this place? Is it a place where we look up and see the mountains or where we look up and see a high rise? Is it a place where we take our kids out on the trails or where we're stuck in traffic?"

Mooers said the redevelopment project would add about 8,000 more cars to surrounding roads on peak days. "Tahoe is frighteningly becoming famous for its gridlock."

The traffic issue is something people on both sides of the debate believe needs to be resolved. Wirth said, "I'd like to think we could come together and fund viable solutions like just good clean shuttles that would run every 10 to 15 minutes."

Squaw Valley officials said the project could help alleviate road congestion in the area, with $20 million allocated for transportation initiatives. In total, officials estimate the redevelopment project would generate an additional $22 million in tax revenue.

Wirth said, "Tens and hundreds of millions of dollars will accumulate over time in terms of fiscal benefits." He estimates the redevelopment would create between 500 and 600 full-time jobs. On-site affordable workforce housing is included in the proposal.

Another element of the proposed project is a plan to restore nine acres of Squaw Creek, which was altered during the 1960 Olympic games to prevent flooding. Wirth said if the project is approved, crews will remove concrete barriers around the creek to try to return it to its natural state.

The Placer County Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval for the redevelopment project. The proposal will go before the Placer County Board of Supervisors sometime in the next three months.

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