Homewood ski area given green light to start makeover

For years, the Homewood Mountain Resort offered skiers and snowboarders both glorious views of Lake Tahoe and an unpretentious setting popular with locals.

Now, after approval of a redevelopment plan by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Homewood is poised to become an “upscale boutique resort” with a five-star hotel, ski chalets and an alpine village.

The TRPA board voted Wednesday to approve the first phase of a $500 million project the agency proclaimed would transform the 50-year-old ski area into “an environmentally-friendly four-season resort” with an amphitheater for summer concerts, bike trails and boating facilities.

Art Chapman, chairman of JMA Ventures, which bought the 1,200-acre property six years ago, said the resort will be upgraded with faster ski lifts and upscale amenities. But he said the plan hopes to preserve Homewood’s rustic appeal with buildings featuring “true alpine architecture,” with logs and heavy rock buildings and a pitched-roof hotel modeled after the 1906 Tahoe Tavern Hotel, which burned down in the 1960s.

“The neighbors told us they were tired of large, monolithic ski areas where the architecture would be suitable for a beach in Mexico,” said Chapman, whose firm is a minority investor in another resort project that will combine Squaw Valley USA and Alpine Meadows into the largest ski resort in the United States.

“The intent behind this is to create an upscale boutique resort … and a very family-oriented ski area.”

The Homewood master ski area plan was approved by TRPA after five years of negotiations among the developer, neighbors and environmental groups.

JMA Ventures promised an erosion control plan to prevent sediment from fouling the lake and a program – including dial-a-ride service and shuttles for local skiers and tourists – to reduce traffic congestion.

The project’s approval got mixed reviews from Carl Young, interim executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

Young applauded the plan for improved building standards, storm water treatment and road upgrades to reduce sediment washing into the lake. “From a water quality perspective, this project offers benefits over what is there now,” he said.

But he expressed skepticism over claims the development won’t worsen traffic. And he said the project, including a four-story hotel and a mountain lodge, is too large. “We wanted to see it scaled down in height and scaled down in size,” Young said.

But TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta hailed the development plan in a statement as environmentally sensitive and “critical to the health of Lake Tahoe and the west shore community.”

Chapman said first-phase construction, beginning in 2014, will transform Homewood’s current 900-space parking lot with a 75-room hotel and a village, including an alternating winter ice rink and summer miniature golf course, along with retail outlets including a deli, hardware store and ice cream parlor.

The 900 parking spaces will be replaced by a mostly underground parking structure. The resort will also include 103 condominiums, 48 “ski-in, ski-out chalets” and employee housing.

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