Snowcreek VIII amendments pass Council; Gate debate warps out of orbit
If Snowcreek VIII developer Chuck Lande, based upon his experience in Mammoth, had to choose his favorite line from an old “Star Trek” episode, he might have paraphrased Capt. James T. Kirk, saying, “Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life here.”
Undaunted, however, Lande has forged ahead, exploring the strange new world of Mammoth development, and seeking out relationships with alien life forms, such as those in the Community Development Department. As a result, Lande and his associates from Chadmar Development were rewarded with Town Council approval of the Snowcreek Master Plan Update and EIR (Environmental Impact Report) on Wednesday.
The new plan updates the 1981 version to include new provisions for land use, density and other development standards that will allow Lande to build out the Snowcreek VIII site.
That development, however, will be done in various stages, and won’t be completed anytime soon. Phasing of the development was a highlight of the Master Plan review stage, particularly for Councilmember Wendy Sugimura. In her comments, she expressed concerns as to timing, especially the hotel.
Sugimura said she would have liked to see some kind of language as to when the hotel would be built. She said it had nothing to do with any trust issues vis a vis Lande, and also didn’t have a specific timeframe in mind. In lieu of a timeline, she suggested, as one concept, that the hotel be built no later than when 60% of the site’s other housing construction is completed.
Perceptions by hoteliers notwithstanding, Lande said at the moment, the hotel is on hold pending financing and recovery of the economy, and that he would probably start building other parts of the development first. “The market’s just not there,” Lande said.
“What if the hotel never happens? I just don’t want to be in that position,” Sugimura said. “Unfortunately you are in that position, as are we all,” Mayor Neil McCarroll replied. “I don’t see how we can [specify] when the hotel has to be built.” Councilmember Skip Harvey said he thought “we should plan for the worst case,” in the event the hotel doesn’t come. “Of course, we hope that doesn’t happen,” he added.
Sugimura then proposed adding language saying Lande acknowledges the “hotel provides value” to the site and that he would make every effort to build the hotel “as early as possible in the project.” Lande said he had no problem agreeing to that.
One part of the plan yet to be fine- tuned is the housing mitigation element, which Mammoth Lakes Housing Director Pam Hennarty said still has “more questions than answers.” Hennarty said MLH has yet to complete its evaluation of the plan Lande submitted, and asked to defer comment and specifics regarding how housing mitigation would be reached, until MLH’s work is done.
Citing density that Chadmar has already given up, Lande asked for (and was granted) a maximum of 80 units of workforce housing. Hennarty said she was “okay” with the decision, though clearly would have preferred more flexibility on the figure. Chadmar counsel pointed out that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Environmental Impact Report findings were both predicated on 80 units.
In terms of the Ranch Road winter egress issue, attorney Tim Sanford, who represents several homeowners in the so-called “Gate” area, took issue with Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access’ solution to the issues involving snow enthusiasts coming down from skiing and snowboarding on the Sherwins trespassing on private property.
Along with Lande, MLTPA Director John Wentworth came up with a plan that would essentially direct such persons across the Snowcreek golf course and onto a public easement that would take them back to Old Mammoth Road, a plan Sanford’s clients don’t like.
“If egress is permitted across Snowcreek and down Ranch Road, there’s no parking allowed, but people will park wherever they want, laws or not,” Sanford said. “Ranch Road is not designed to be a staging area. It seems MLTPA is asking to secure as much public access as it can.”
Sanford went on to say that the homeowners don’t want to be known as “Gate” people, but thought of as members of the community. Making the access temporary, he said, would “solve the problem and make a lot of people happy.” Council, however, saw it differently and opted against making “temporary access” a condition of approval.
“If nothing were done, the problems the Ranch Road residents have encountered for years would still be there, but now they’d have no opportunity for redress in the future,” Wentworth told The Sheet.
“MLTPA is looking for public access opportunities along the entire southern boundary, but we are going to be absolutely mindful of private property rights. Everyone needs to be in the solutions business.” Wentworth said.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) has convened a consortium of parties and the general public with interests in and around the Sherwins area in an effort known as the “Sherwin Working Group” (SWG), Wentworth said, to identify recreation opportunities in the Sherwin Area. “There will be a need to equitably and legally distribute the flow of recreation traffic in and out of Forest Service land.”
Wentworth said that the Ranch Road public easement point, which technically isn’t part of the Snowcreek Master Plan, is an important point, but it’s just one point. “And it’s really only applicable during winter. During the summer, for all intents and purposes, it has no practical use.”
Lande, he said, participated as much as he could within the limits of the property he owns. The endgame of the Ranch Road and the other points along the southern boundary will likely be determined by the SWG’s work, expected to reach draft stage by September.
Lande suggested much of the controversy boils down to a lack of respect for private property rights. McCarroll said he thought the impetus was on Lande and Wentworth to come up with a mix of wayfinding and education to combat the problem. Those, along with penalties for egregious offenders, were viewed as a potential long-term remedy.
“One of [MLTPA’s] most profound desires is to get education programs out there,” Wentworth said.
Sanford and other naysayers were still not convinced. You can have all the signs and educational programs you want, they retorted, but trespassers, as with water and electricity, will find the path of least resistance.
Councilmember John Eastman, however, seemed to think that if anyone can get the job done, it’s Wentworth. “I didn’t give him a chance at getting Measure R passed, but he did and with 72% of the vote,” Eastman stated.
Finally, Lande confirmed that the site will contain an Andrea Mead Lawrence preserve, which the skiing and environmental legend was working on at the time of her death on March 30.
Mead Lawrence, as a side note, is scheduled for induction into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, class of 2009, on August 12 in Chicago.