Environmentalists, developers reach ‘landmark’ compromise for Martis Valley | TheUnion.com

Environmentalists, developers reach ‘landmark’ compromise for Martis Valley

TRUCKEE – Developers and regional conservationists have agreed on a plan that will raise tens of millions of dollars for land preservation in the Martis Valley, which has become a battleground over growth in the Sierra.

In exchange for a development cap and a real estate tax that will channel about $30 million to the Truckee Donner Land Trust over 25 years, environmental groups that have battled Martis Valley development pledged this week to support Northstar-at-Tahoe’s large-scale expansion plans.

Northstar’s Highlands project, with its 1,450 townhome and condominium units, and the resort’s village, with more than 200 condominium units, are the centerpieces of the agreement that includes all land and development plans for the ski area. Both projects, which are being planned and built by resort developer East West Partners, have been approved by Placer County.

“We are in a position now that we look forward to the construction of the Highlands because we know what it means for the overall Martis Valley,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Nevada City-based Sierra Watch, a group that has spearheaded the legal challenge to development plans in the valley.

Resort developer East West Partners and Northstar owner Trimont Land Company had been in negotiations with Sierra Watch and Truckee-based Mountain Area Preservation Foundation for months before the agreement became final.

One half of a percent of each sale of a condo or townhome on these projects, known as a transfer fee, will go to the land trust to buy land in and around the Martis Valley. And East West Partners will advance $1 million in future transfer fees to the land trust to use immediately, said East West Partners Managing Partner Roger Lessman.

“We have collectively provided a mechanism to preserve open space in the Martis Valley,” Lessman said.

Northstar land holdings on the east side of Highway 267, which total 233 acres, will be held under a conservation easement that bars development, according to the agreement.

In their overall conservation strategy for the Martis Valley, environmentalists say this is a “landmark” agreement, not only because of the amount of money that it will funnel toward the valley’s preservation, but also because it can serve as an example for other development in the valley.

“We think that it can set a good example of how we can work together on a win-win situation,” said Mooers, whose organization has had talks with the Eaglewood developers and the owners of Siller Ranch, two other projects that have been approved in the Martis Valley.

For East West Partners, which had planned a transfer fee on their projects even without the agreement, the compromise is a “big step” toward preserving open space in the valley, Lessman said.

The challenge is now to use that money, as it trickles in, to acquire Martis Valley land on the northeastern side of Highway 267, which environmental groups agree is the priority preservation target in the 70-square-mile valley.

Two large tracts of land make up most of the northeastern side of Highway 267 – Waddle Ranch, 596 acres, and Sierra Pacific Industries property, 7,343 acres. And that land will be more expensive than anything that the Truckee Donner Land Trust has bought in the past, said Perry Norris, executive director of the land trust.

“For the land trust the Martis Valley presents, in terms of land values, a quantum leap,” Norris said.

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