Have you ever skied at Homewood? If you haven’t, you should. While it may not have the terrain Squaw has, and lacks the steeps that so many locals and visitors enjoy, show up to Homewood on a stormy powder day and you might not cross a track, except your own, for the entire day.
Times have changed and many visitors and locals have known for a long time that it’s tough to beat the chill atmosphere of Homewood on a storm day. When the sun’s out, it boasts some the best Lake views of any of the many Tahoe area ski resorts. Homewood is also one of the last ski areas around the Lake to hold an identity as a ski area, as opposed to a ski resort. With the proposed expansion by the current owners, San Francisco based real-estate firm JMA Ventures, this sleepy West Shore gem may be getting ready to embrace a new identity in the coming year.
Snow hammers the modest ski area all winter long. Amenities are slim, and the parking lot could double as a ski area parking lot from any other mom-and-pop type ski areas from around the country. Some people thrive on the mellow laid-back atmosphere at Homewood. Other can’t stand it. The latter argue the restaurant/bar is too small, the infrastructure is outdated, and essentially, “it’s time for Homewood to get with the times and upgrade”. Those in favor of pro-expansion seem to organize around the belief that JMA does not want Homewood to become a mega-resort. Moreover, they also tend to argue that without this expansion plan, Homewood will continue to be uncompetitive with other Tahoe resorts, and may be forced to close in the near future.
The anti-expansionists view the project through a much different lens. Citing the recent orientation of the ski industry to cater to luxury amenities with an emphasis on high-priced real estate, the detractors argue this will not only negatively effect Homewood as a ski area, but it will also greatly impact the locals that live on the West Shore.
Aspects of the expansion plan that are under the most scrutiny include a new base lodge that includes a 75-room boutique hotel, 99 multi-family condominiums spread out over three separate buildings, and up to 25,000 square feet of new retail space.
Beyond locals and long-time visitors who are critical of the plan two organized groups, Friends of the West Shore, and The League to Save Lake Tahoe, are also opposed to the expansion. Part of their critique is the massive traffic implications that will be unavoidable along Highway 89, which is the tight two-lane highway that accesses the ski area. In addition, perhaps the main argument against the overall plan is that it is much too encompassing for the small West Shore community that is surrounded by Homewood, which is arguably the most laid-back, rural community around Lake Tahoe.
Many residents are actually in favor of improvements made to Homewood’s outdated infrastructure, but they are then quick to argue that the current scope of the proposed project goes far beyond what would be appropriately beneficial to both the ski area and the community. Communities like Tahoma are home to multi-generation local families, and while Lake Tahoe is a tourist-driven economy, this is still one area of Tahoe where locals outnumber vacation homes. The community character, attachment to community, and sense of place is like none other in places like Tahoma and Homewood, according to residents. Many locals feel this project will not only undermine those attributes, but overall, resident’s quality of life will be largely degraded by the expansion plan.
Further arguments against the project cite that if it is allowed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) it would be the largest development ever allowed on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. Beyond that precedent it will facilitate the tallest buildings ever built on the West Shore, as well as the only large-scale parking garage on the West Shore. There’s also implications to water quality, and the fact that those in the know, regarding the recent trajectory of the ski industry, understand ski area improvements are probably just a way for JMA to make revenue based on the real estate aspects of the proposed expansion plan.
Still, the executive V.P. of JMA Ventures, David Tirman, continues to argue that without this expansion plan, Homewood is likely to close. This argument is grounded in the orientation of JMA Ventures to maintain a profitable portfolio of investments. According to Mr. Tirman, “Maintaining the status quo as a commuter ski area is not sustainable.”
Anti-expansionists are quick to point out that Mr.Tirman has repeatedly said that the expansion plan, if allowed, is merely a blue-print for what JMA “hopes” to do over the coming ten, or even more years. This is another reason locals and long-time residents are worried, because this statement means that when the initial hurdle is crossed by JMA to go ahead with their current plan, really it creates an open ticket for JMA to be continually developing Homewood for many years on down the line. That said, Mr. Tillman has also repeatedly stated that all of these plans are contingent on “the overall health of the economy.” In business lingo that means that even if the plan is allowed, if the economy continues to dip, and JMA feels they won’t make as much of a return on their investment as they had initially forecasted, they could just pull the plug and abandon the total vision of the project.
The final say on whether this expansion plan will be accepted or not is supposed to be handed down sometime this summer. If accepted the expansion is set to begin in 2012.
Relevant links to Homewood’s Expansion Plan: