Tuolumne County planners are reviewing an application submitted by a Southern California development firm to build a sprawling mountain resort on Highway 120 about 17 miles east of Groveland.
A project summary available on the county’s website stated the proposed Terra Vi Lodge Yosemite would be located on a 64-acre property at the northeast corner of Highway 120 and Sawmill Mountain Road, about seven miles west of the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park.
The project applicants are listed as Hardin Flat, LLC, and the Hansji Corp., an Anaheim-based development firm that has done multimillion dollar projects in downtown Phoenix and San Diego.
According to the summary, the resort would include a three-story lodge with 140 guestrooms, 25 cabins with 100 guestrooms, a public market, two-story event center, and helicopter landing pad.
“Terra Vi Lodge will be a one-of-a-kind place where individuals, families and groups can have an unmatched experience in one of nature’s most beautiful settings,” the document stated.
The project is planned to be served by a water system that would be developed from two on-site wells. Wastewater would also be treated on site and disposed of through an approved leach field system, according to the summary.
A notification dated Dec. 10 was sent by the county to property owners within 2,000 feet of the proposed project, with Friday being the deadline for them to submit comments on the application.
News of the proposal caused a stir among residents of Groveland when it hit social media on Monday.
Many people who spoke about the proposal expressed concerns about the potential impacts on ambulance and fire protection services. There were also concerns related to the project’s potential impact on the environment and watershed.
Groveland residents in June overwhelmingly approved the renewal of a five-year $90 property tax for a 24-hour ambulance, which was increased from $70 the previous five years.
The resort would be outside the boundaries of the Groveland Community Services District, which pays for Cal Fire to cover Groveland and Big Oak Flat. However, the station also responds to calls in the outlying areas through an automatic aid agreement.
Pete Kampa, general manager of GCSD, said the district had received the notice about the project and will take an active role in discussions.
“Anytime you put a facility that’s going to draw thousands of people a year, you’re going to have an increased demand for services,” he said. “We just want to make sure we can provide the same level of service to that project that we do anywhere else, and that might require an evaluation of what that impact would be.”
Kampa said the district has submitted comments to the county about past developments but wasn’t included as an active player because the project was located outside of GCSD’s boundaries, such as Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite that’s located about six miles east of the proposed site for the Terra Vi Lodge.
Rush Creek Lodge opened in June 2016 with more than 140 guestrooms between the main buildings and 16 villas.
District 4 Supervisor John Gray, who represents Groveland and the South County area, said he briefly discussed the project with the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority Governing Board at a public meeting on Thursday.
Gray also serves as chairman of the TCEDA board.
“What’s being done right now is a preliminary review, no one is trying to ram anything through,” Gray reassured residents with concerns on Monday. “It’s the process you go through with any type of development.”
The next step will be for a specialist to determine whether the project will cause unavoidable impacts on the environment that would require a full environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, a costly process that can take months or sometimes years.
Gray said he had a brief meeting with the developer months ago where he expressed the need to mitigate issues that have been raised, including the potential impact on emergency services. He’s also concerned about impacts on adjoining properties.
One of the potential benefits cited by Gray was additional revenue to the county’s General Fund that helps pay for service like ambulance, fire protection and law enforcement.
The county has a voter-approved Transient Occupancy Tax that’s 10 percent of the rent charged for short-term lodging, such as hotels, motels and Airbnbs. If the resort generated $10 million a year, that would add $1 million annually to the General Fund.
“You take a million dollars with the budget the size of Tuolumne County’s and it means a lot,” he said of the General Fund that was nearly $75 million in the current fiscal year.
Gray said the project could also benefit the Highway 120 corridor and Yosemite National Park by providing more lodging accommodations for people in the nearly 2 million vehicles that pass through the Big Oak Flat entrance each year, which could lead to fewer vehicles and traffic in Yosemite Valley.
“It’s an exciting project, but you never know if these are going to succeed or not,” he said. “It’s whether the negative things can be mitigated or not.”
Other major development projects along the Highway 120 corridor in and around Groveland and Big Oak Flat have been proposed over the years and ultimately never materialized.
Notably, there’s piece of property nicknamed “The Scar” on Highway 120 south of Memorial Drive in Big Oak Flat due to several failed proposals that left the land denuded from excavation.
One of the proposals was for a $60 million commercial and hospitality plaza that was envisioned to include a two hotels with a combined 350 rooms, a bowling alley, gas station, and IMAX theater, but those plans were later scrapped by the property owner due to costly environmental review requirements.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.