A proposed resort about five miles west of the Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park will be allowed to move forward after Tuolumne County supervisors unanimously upheld the project’s approval at a meeting that spanned more than six hours on Thursday.
The board’s decision to greenlight the so-called Terra Vi Lodge followed another six-hour meeting on Tuesday that had to be continued until 9 a.m. Thursday after it was discovered comments from the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte were left out of the project’s final analysis due to an “inadvertent error.”
As a result of the error, county staff had to prepare an “errata” to respond to the center’s comments as required by California environmental law and released the 72-page document shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
County supervisors justified their decision by speaking about the requirements under the law, the rights of property owners to develop their land if they are following all of the rules. and how there is always opposition to every significant development project that comes before the board.
“While I really do sympathize with the personal impacts that a project such as this is going to have on some people, that’s not the decision-making architecture I have to operate in when I make my decisions,” said outgoing County Supervisor Karl Rodefer.
The project will construct a lodge with 100 guest rooms, seven detached cabins totaling 26 additional guest rooms, five apartment buildings each containing four units each for employee housing, a public market, and emergency helipad, which would cover about 18% of a 64-acre property at Sawmill Mountain Road and Highway 120.
Wells and an onsite septic system would provide water and sewer to the buildings due to the lack of public infrastructure for those services in the remote Due to the lack of public water and sewer in the remote area about 20 miles east of Groveland.
More than 40 people spoke during the public-comment periods at each meeting on Tuesday and Thursday, with many of the same speakers voicing their opinions both. Most were opposed to the project, though six spoke in favor on Tuesday and 11 spoke in favor on Thursday.
Many of the opponents live or own property near the project, though one woman read a list of 30-plus names of people who live in other parts of the county and say they are opposed to it but didn’t speak at the meeting.
Opponents have said the project will forever destroy the natural beauty of the area, increase the risk for fires, compromise evacuation routes, cause other wells in the area to dry up in drought years, and place a further burden on already strained county services in the Highway 120 like fire protection, law enforcement, and ambulance.
People in favor of the project have said it will benefit the county by providing needed additional accommodations for tourists, give them a place to stay other than dispersed camping in the forest, and boost tax revenues to support improving county services in the area.
The hearings on Tuesday and Thursday were to consider appeals of the project’s approval by the county Planning Commission on Dec. 1 that were filed by Clare Cosovich, Matthew Chapman, and a group of neighboring property owners called Save Sawmill Mountain.
Cosovich’s appeal, which said she believed there was insufficient water in the area, was accused of being disingenuous by the Save Sawmill Mountain group because of her purported engagement to a relative of the property owner.
On Tuesday, Cosovich was given 15 minutes to explain her appeal and said she had changed her mind after reading the analysis of the project. She also slammed the opponents as being “selfish” and more concerned about the impacts on their own personal property.
The owner of the property is the wife of the late Tim Manly, a former logger who purchased the land in the late 1980s and got it rezoned in the 1990s for commercial development with an eye toward a future site for a hotel.
Another property owned by the Manly family about a quarter-mile away at Hardin Flat Road and Highway 120 was also unanimously approved by the board earlier this month for the development of a 99-tent luxury campground called Yosemite Under Canvas, despite opposition from many of the same people who are against the Terra Vi Lodge.
Many of the opponents also accused the process to approve both projects of being “rushed” by the county and scheduled around the holidays to limit participation and allow the three outgoing county supervisors to consider the appeals before their successors take office on Monday.
County Supervisor John Gray, who represents the area that’s part of District 4 and will retire Monday after 12 years on the board, talked about how public notices about the project first went out more than two years ago and lamented about how the county can improve public services without such developments or tax increases.
“There’s been talk of funding, or a lack thereof, for emergency services,” he said. “We end up kind of against the wall because every time we try to propose a tax measure that would bring money to improve those services, the property owner or taxpayer chooses not to help us along with that.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 768-5175.