By KATY BRANDENBURG
The Union Democrat
Bear Valley and Calaveras County residents will have a chance this weekend to voice their opinions on how the proposed Village at Bear Valley to include 340 new condominiums, shops, a mountaintop restaurant and another new ski lift will affect the area.
Plans are still in the early stages. Developers are in the process of drafting an environmental impact report, and pitching plans to the public, the Calaveras Council of Governments and county Board of Supervisors, according to Supervisor Merita Callaway. A traffic study is part of the process.
Although the proposed development is in Alpine County, its effect will reach beyond county lines.
"I think we should definitely comment on it," said Callaway, whose district includes the Highway 4 corridor leading to Bear Valley. "This development will have a dribble-down effect on Calaveras County."
The development partnership consists of Colorado-based Dundee Realty USA, Chuck Toeniskoetter, chairman of San Jose-based TBI Development; Kevin Compton, of Murphys; and Doug MacKenzie, of Dorrington.
Tim Bottomley, former owner of the mountain resort, was quoted by Bear Valley public relations as saying the Village will result in "positive changes for Bear Valley's loyal guests, staff and local businesses, while producing a snowball effect on tourism along the Highway 4 corridor in Calaveras and Alpine counties."
Developers say the 340 condos planned is less than the 565 units allowed under Alpine County's 1978 development master plan, still in effect.
The project would add 225 luxury condominium units in two- to five-story buildings, at the base of the mountain, and 125 units at the top. The two communities will be connected by a high-speed lift developers are touting as the "Town Lift."
This past winter season, Bear Valley replaced the old Hibernation Lift on the back of the mountain with the new and faster Polar Express.
Mark Phillips, general manager of Bear Valley Mountain Resort, said the development itself would have a "negligible effect," on traffic in and around Bear Valley.
"It's 300 condos being built over a period of time. It's not a huge development, so it shouldn't cause any major traffic," he said. "Most will be second or vacation homes, not primary residences. Basically, the week of Christmas will be the most significant occupancy."
Even then, he estimated the town would only be at 70 to 80 percent capacity.
Seasonal traffic, however, still must be accounted for in an environmental impact report, said Tim McSorley, executive director of the Calaveras Council of Governments, a transportation planning agency.
"If the condos are going to be rented out or used on a regular basis, people most likely are going to go up and ski every weekend," he said.
Although the traffic would not be constant, it would occur at peak weekend travel hours. The impact of new condos is relative: Depending on how many Bear Valley already has, it could be a 10 to 20 percent increase, or a much higher density increase, McSorley said.
Callaway pointed out that economic impacts from home values in the area increasing could filter into Calaveras County as well.
"What will this do to housing in the area, like rent for apartments, or employee housing?" she asked.
Phillips said employee housing, whether new buildings or redesigned existing structures, will be included in the plan. A rise in property values would be more likely to come from the commercial development around the condos than from the new neighborhood itself, he said.
In addition to the mountaintop restaurant, the plan includes 20,000 square-feet of retail space for a grocery store and other small shops a less than 25 percent increase from the existing commercial real estate, he said.
"Enough to accommodate the growth, but nothing big. There will be no Starbucks here, for sure," Phillips said.
He believes a more notable increase in traffic on Highway 4 will occur in the summers, since Ebbetts Pass was designated a National Scenic Byway in September 2005.
"I think that will have more impact on the pass, once the information gets out, than the effect of 300 condos being built," he said.