Developers once envisioned a 36-acre property on Highway 120 in Big Oak Flat as a prime location for a sprawling $60 million commercial center replete with multiple hotels, fast-food restaurants and an IMAX theater, but a Silicon Valley woman who inherited the land in 2007 is banking on a more modest proposal to be the one that finally comes to fruition.
Mary Curtis, of Los Gatos, is working with a group called Yonder Yosemite that’s expected to submit plans in the coming weeks for a hospitality project at the site that would operate year-round and feature 200 freestanding cabins, an events pavilion, lodge, and on-site employee housing.
“We’ve been approached with a number of different ideas, and this one came along and struck me from the beginning that if the people associated with it could really deliver, it was probably the right project for the area,” she said.
The property is better known to most locals by its nickname, “The Scar,” due to extensive grading more than 25 years ago from past failed attempts at development that scraped the land bare and left it an environmentally degraded eyesore for the community.
Curtis and her late husband got involved with the property in the early 2000s before taking full ownership of it in 2006 when it became clear that the people involved with the previous plans were not going to be able to follow through.
“Unfortunately, they weren’t on the up and up,” she said. “That property has a long pedigree, if you will, of crooks being associated with it.”
After the death of Curtis’ husband, she spent years trying to pursue the original plans she inherited for the property dubbed the Yosemite Gateway Plaza before finally pulling the plug in 2014 when it became clear that the costs of continuing were going to outweigh the potential benefits.
Curtis, who founded a public relations and advertising agency that has represented major tech companies and startups in the Silicon Valley, said she believes the scaled-down plans for Yonder Yosemite will ultimately be a better fit for the community.
“The benefits of this project are very different than the prior one,” she said. “The prior one was really beneficial to the community in terms of driving tax dollars, but in a way, it was also not beneficial to the community because it created the potential of competition with some of the other businesses.”
The new project is being planned with a focus on restoring the landscape and conserving more of the natural environment.
While the former plans called for 310,640 square feet of development, essentially accounting for the entire property, the new project would develop about 95,832 square feet. There would also be trees planted throughout the property and along the highway to make it seem “adjacent to nature.”
Groveland Community Services District has also already said it would be able to provide the project with public water and sewer service, which was a point of controversy for two other recently approved hospitality projects about 20 miles east of Groveland.
Curtis said she’s not concerned about the recent approval of the other projects, known as the Terra Vi Lodge and Yosemite Under Canvas, because she believes they have different goals in mind.
“The reality is that competition is good,” she said. “I know their play is to be closer to Yosemite, ours is to do the right thing.”
Many people who spoke against the other two projects voiced support for “The Scar” property as a more appropriate place for such developments, including John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.
Buckley said he’s consulted with Curtis and her team in the process of developing the new plans for the property and signaled his support.
“The key points that separate this project from the controversial projects farther to the east along the highway are that this project is closer to communities, it’s an infill project, it has public water and public sewer available, and it’s a site that already has been significantly altered from its natural condition,” he said. “It’s not like other places where you’re taking something natural and messing it up to whatever degree with some mitigation.”
An application was originally submitted to the county in September to begin gathering input from interested stakeholders so that it can be incorporated into the plans before they are submitted to begin the county review and approval process, which Curtis expects to happen later this month or early next month.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 768-5175.