Homewood ski resort expansion a controversial topic on Tahoe’s west shore

By: Jeffrey Weidel/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Considering the crowd that has congregated on this busy Monday at Homewood Mountain Resort, Shayne Kline feels lucky to have secured a small table where he and his young son can eat lunch.

Powder days tend to draw a crowd, even on a Monday. And there was certainly powder to be accessed for skiing and snowboarding on this day.

Because his mother owns a home on Lake Tahoe’s scenic west shore, Kline has been coming to nearby Homewood for 15 years. He loves the mountain’s terrain, the picturesque views of Lake Tahoe (which is literally across the street from the resort) and the abundance of snow that typically paints Homewood white all winter.

However, one of several things Kline doesn’t like about Homewood is the outdated, cramped restaurant/bar, where food can be picked up when someone loudly screams – “Number 49, your order is ready!” It’s a crude method of picking up food at a cramped facility that doesn’t utilize a loudspeaker.

Some may consider this daily occurrence the “charm” of Homewood, while people like Kline are annoyed by the practice and feel it’s time for a change.  Kline, who lives in Paso Robles, hopes the controversial expansion plan – proposed by the resort’s owner, San Francisco-based real estate firm JMA Ventures – earns approval this summer and Homewood makes wholesale improvements to a resort that seemingly needs attention.

“The expansion is a great idea. This resort really needs updating,” Kline said. “The owners don’t want to make Homewood some mega resort. If they improved it, made it something like Alpine (also owned by JMA Ventures), that would be very exciting.

“They need to do some updating so they can compete with all the other resorts and keep Homewood here. It would be very sad if Homewood were to close someday and just go away.”

What some area residents definitely want to see go away is the expansion plan. The multi-million-dollar project includes a base lodge with a 75-room boutique hotel, 99 multi-family condominiums in three buildings, and up to 25,000 square feet of retail space.

Many members of two local groups – Friends of the West Shore and League to Save Lake Tahoe – oppose the expansion, citing traffic implications along two-lane Highway 89 and an overall project that is too comprehensive for the west shore community that prides itself on existing under the radar.

Judi Tornese, a homeowner on the west shore (Tahoma) and Friends of the West Shore board member, says she supports a revitalized Homewood Mountain Resort, but the current project is too large. She’s passionate about preserving the area, where some west shore families have owned the same house for four or five generations.

“The proposed project has many firsts,” Tornese wrote in an e-mail. “It will be the largest development ever proposed on the west shore; it will have the tallest group of buildings, and the first large parking garage on the west shore.  The west shore is unique and treasured by many because of its character, community and rural quality of life. Many residents are concerned that this will be lost forever.”

Detractors also are concerned about water implications, and some believe the expansion is more of a real estate venture than a skiing enterprise. Supporters cite positives like creating more jobs and giving people more options to stay and play on the west shore.

David Tirman, executive vice president of JMA Ventures, has been blunt regarding Homewood’s future if the expansion plan fails to gain approval. He cites modest numbers – like the average 300 visitors on weekdays – that have to be increased or Homewood might fold like many smaller resorts throughout the United States.

“The proposed Homewood master plan is less about an expansion but more about the redevelopment of the two existing base areas, which today are largely asphalt parking lots and aging day skier facilities,” Tirman wrote in an e-mail. “The redevelopment of the Homewood resort is critical to its continued viability as a ski area. Maintaining the status quo as a commuter ski area is not sustainable.”

Tirman says the project is a long-term blueprint of how the resort will be incrementally redeveloped over a 10-year period that may take even longer, depending on “the overall health of the economy.”

The list of improvements also includes:

* Replacement of two aging chair lifts with new high-speed lifts;
* Replacement of existing parking and day-skier facilities with new facilities and concealed underground, structured parking;
* Pedestrian-oriented neighborhood village at the north base;
* Employee housing on site;
* New mid-mountain day lodge;
* Extensive environmental improvement projects, including new storm water treatment facilities;
* Alternative transportation (water taxi, bicycle bank for summer use) and completion of the regional bike trail through the Homewood resort.

While some residents want the project to fail, that’s not the opinion of Ron Parson. The general manager of nearby Granlibakken Resort and Lodge, a fixture on the west shore for more than six decades, gives the Homewood project his full support.

“I have listened to a number of arguments against the project and have not found anything substantive from what are essentially individuals trying to stop anything from changing,” Parson said. “The Tahoe Basin desperately needs investment and redevelopment to help sustain and achieve both the environmental improvements and to remain economically viable. Without these improvements, there will be change – atrophy and closure of businesses like Homewood Mountain Resort.”

JMA Ventures presented a draft environmental impact statement in February. Final approval of the master plan and certification of the environmental impact report/statement will be made by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Placer County this summer. If approved, Tirman says construction is anticipated to begin in 2012.

Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento-area freelance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.