Homewood Mountain Resort’s Master Plan. How’s that working out?

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Posted on February 6, 2014 on blog.sfgate.com by Jules Older



Late last week, this email came in:

“JMA Ventures is pleased to announce that the company has settled the lawsuit that was brought against it by Earth Justice on behalf of Friends of the West Shore and The Tahoe Area Sierra Club. The settlement preserves the integrity of the Homewood Mountain Resort master plan and clears a major obstacle to the redevelopment of the popular ski resort, which was founded in 1961, on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore.”

I contacted Friends of the West Shore and another environmentally concerned organization, League to Save Lake Tahoe. On behalf of the latter, Deputy Director Jesse Patterson wrote, “While the League is encouraged to see the substantial water quality improvements associated with the project, we still have concerns about the increases in traffic related issues caused by a project of this magnitude that the West shore communities will have to cope with. Time will tell how best those issues can be addressed.”

Friends of the West Shore never responded to my requests for comment.

But Art Chapman did. He’s the founder of JMA Ventures, the company that owns Homewood and prepared its master plan. (You can see the plan and a slightly strange virtual tour of the virtual property at www.skihomewood.com/masterplan.)

Here’s what Chapman had to say…

Just how bad is Homewood now?

It’s in very bad shape. Since we bought it seven years ago in 2007, we’ve lost seven million dollars. And we spent another five million to replace a chairlift.

What’s the problem?

The problem is on non-holiday weekdays, there is very little traffic.

How little?

On those days, we average 300 people on the hill. It’s clear we can’t survive on drive-to visitors. We must become a destination. And for that we need condominiums and a hotel.

Ah, the hotel. It’s been described as a “tall building” and by association, “an eyesore.”

The hotel will have 75 rooms. It was designed by the great architect, John Hill. It’s hardly a skyscraper. We held hundreds of meetings with Tahoe neighbors, and they told us they wanted the architecture to reflect old Tahoe. That’s just what we’ve done.

How did the recent settlement affect your plans?

We had to give up 13 out of 237 total units, but we didn’t give up the square footage in those units. We agreed to augment the traffic monitoring and to retire 50,000 feet of coverage.

Coverage?

Coverage is impenetrable ground: asphalt, rooftops, parking lots. Around Lake Tahoe, you can transfer coverage but not develop more. And that’s a good thing.

Anything else?

Yes. Settlement calls for an additional 44,000 square feet of land restoration & retirement; this is above and beyond the 178 thousand already required with the project approval.

Without snowmaking, Homewood is having a terrible season so far. What are your plans?

Snowmaking will increase, enough to cover the first thousand feet of the mountain.

Will that be enough?

We’re not trying to compete with Alpine or Squaw. They’re much bigger than Homewood. But we have beautiful lake views and great glade skiing…

And?

And we’re creating a year-round family resort. More people come to Tahoe in summer than winter.

Back to winter and snowmaking. Where will you get the water to make snow?

We own riparian water rights. On our land, there are old flumes, streams and wells that far exceed what we could ever use. Unlike other ski areas, it’s all private property. We own five times more than we can use.

Will you sell the excess?

No, by law, you can’t do that.

Do you think the objections are over, or are there more to come?

I think they’re over. The statute of limitations has now run out.

Your master plan timeline begins in 2015 and runs through 2022. What’s your prediction? Is it on time, advanced or delayed?

On time. We hope to break ground in May, 2015. We’ll start on the hotel, the mid-mountain lodge and the new year-round gondola.

If someone, like Governor Romney, offered you a $50,000 bet that it wasn’t gonna’ happen—

I’ll take the bet.

Homewood’s skiing tops out at a low 7,700 feet. It’s near the coast. It’s not in a northern latitude. Most folks would be scared about the effects of global warming.

People are scared for good reason. We’re already in a low- or no snowfall period. But the answer isn’t to give up; it’s to provide amenities that will bring families up in all seasons. Make sure we’re offering things other than skiing that attract people.

Such as?

A swimming pool. An ice-skating pond. An outdoor amphitheater. Walking paths. And a gondola that takes visitors to our glorious views in winter and summer.

Finally, JMA has been behind many ventures. How does Homewood stack up?

I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a project where I got more personally committed. We live in the community. It’s a small community, and we’re ingrained in it. It’s been a huge part of my life since we moved up eight or nine years ago.



Jules Older is publisher/contributor to the ski book/ebook, SKIING THE EDGE.

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