The Tuolumne County Planning Commission approved the second of two proposed resorts off Highway 120 about 20 miles east of Groveland at the end of a five-hour meeting Tuesday night, despite warnings of a potentially long and costly legal battle ahead.
There were 45 people who were given three minutes each to speak during the part of the meeting set aside for public comments before the 6-1 decision, with all but five voicing their opposition to the Terra Vi Lodge that would be constructed on part of a 64-acre property at Sawmill Mountain Road and Highway 120.
“These two developments you are working on ramming through are a perfect example of how development forges ahead in a high fire hazard risk severity zone in spite of the recent and tragic fire history in California,” said Cindy Charles, a Groveland resident and board member of the Tuolumne River Trust.
Charles told the commission to prepare for the “spotlight” because she’s been in contact with the California bureau of the New York Times, which has done recent investigations on development practices in parts of the state known to be at high risk for wildfire.
The project would feature a public market, general lodge with 100 guest rooms, 26 cabin guest rooms in seven buildings, and five apartments for employees with four units each. There would also be an on-site septic system and a helicopter landing pad for emergency uses only.
Objectives of the project as stated in county planning documents are to build an “eco-sensitive resort … where individuals, families and groups can experience one of nature’s most beautiful settings,” and to “design public spaces which include lobbies, dining, event and special amenity areas to have open connections to nature both visually and physically.”
About 18 percent of the 64-acre property would be developed as a result of the project.
The land is owned by the wife and family of the late Tim Manly, a former logger who dealt in property transactions on the side and whose son, Joel Manly, said his father always envisioned the site as a spot for a future hotel when he purchased it as timberland in the 1980s and later got the zoning changed to commercial.
Tim Manly also had the same plans for a site on the other side of Highway 120 at Hardin Flat Road where the planning commission approved permits on Nov. 18 for a 99-tent luxury campground that would be developed by a company known as Under Canvas.
The Terra Vi Lodge would be developed by an Anaheim-based company called the Hansji Corp., which says on its website that it has developed more than 2 million square feet of office, retail and hotel space over the past 40-plus years in business.
Many of the people opposed to the Terra Vi Lodge on Tuesday say they live or own property in the immediate area and also voiced opposition to the Under Canvas project, which the commission approved by a 5-1 vote, with Commissioner Dick Pland not in attendance for the Nov. 18 meeting.
Opponents have since appealed the commission’s decision on the Under Canvas project to the county Board of Supervisors, which will be considered at a future meeting.
There were a number of complaints on Tuesday night about the process that some felt was deliberately being “rushed” in order for appeals of both projects to be heard by the board before three of the five current county supervisors leave office in January.
Quincy Yaley, community development director for the county, has maintained that the process has met all of the minimum requirements for public input and participation.
Though the commission typically meets on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, Yaley said the meeting was held on Tuesday in anticipation of a likely appeal and to ensure there’s enough time for both the commission and board to review the projects and accompanying documents.
However, a number of people on Tuesday pleaded for the commission to delay the hearing for at least 10 days to give them more time to review the documents that they said amounted to some 3,000 pages of material.
The final environmental impact report, or EIR, for the Terra Vi Lodge was released by the county at close to 6 p.m. on Nov. 20, two days after the Under Canvas project’s approval and before the week of Thanksgiving during which the hours of many county offices were limited due to planned furloughs.
“While there may be concerns at other times of year, releasing the final EIR on the Friday before Thanksgiving is decidedly the worst time,” said Lucy Schawllie, who lives on the East Coast and has spent the past 17 summers at a generational cabin on Sawmill Mountain Road.
Other concerns expressed by opponents of the project centered around what they believed to be inaccuracies in the project’s EIR, contamination of neighboring groundwater wells from the on-site septic system, congestion on local roads, and a lack of adequate funding for public services to accommodate the developments.
Several people spoke in favor of the project, including two people who said they work at campgrounds in the area that are frequently booked and have to turn away potential guests. One of them said such developments would be better than people from outside of the area camping in the woods unsupervised.
Ron Kopf spoke in favor of the project on behalf of the Tuolumne County Business Council and Tuolumne County Association of Realtors. He said it would benefit the economy through tourism, and concerns about fire would be addressed through a required fire management plan that must be approved by Cal Fire.
Shaun Crook, a logger and real-estate broker, spoke in favor as part of what he called the “silent majority” in the county who support such developments. He’s also a member of the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau that successfully sued the Sonora Union High School District to block the sale of its Wildcat Ranch to a nonprofit organization that he recently described as a group of “seasoned land developers.”
A woman later in the meeting accused Crook of not disclosing that he was the real-estate broker for the land where the project would be constructed and will benefit from its development, but he said that wasn’t true in an interview on Wednesday.
Crook said he’s been the real-estate broker for the Manly family on other property they’ve sold, but he has “no financial interest with Terra Vi, the principles of the project, or anything else.” He also said he didn’t have any dealings with the Under Canvas project other than helping the Manly family connect with the developer.
“They are a very quality family and longtime members of the community,” Crook said of the Manlys. “I have no doubt they would not be involved with Hansji if they weren’t a quality company.”
Many of the commissioners also spoke in positive terms about the project before casting their vote. Pland said he “deeply resented” comments from some about the process appearing to be “shady” because he didn’t have any hand in the timing of it.
Commissioner Larry Beil cast the lone dissenting vote due to concerns he had about certain parts of the environmental impact report, which he felt should have been sent back to county staff for further review. He had similar concerns that led to him also voting not to approve the Under Canvas project.
One of the commissioners asked Yaley how much Transient Occupancy Tax is estimated to be generated by the county by the Terra Vi Lodge, which she said is expected to be about $650,000. Beil said the commission’s purpose is to review land use and compatibility with the county’s General Plan, not a project’s impact on TOT revenues.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 768-5175.