Frequently Asked Questions
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What are the local economic impacts and benefits associated with the proposed projects? How many potential new jobs would these projects create?
The proposed projects will provide a positive contribution to the local economy through the creation of additional jobs, sales tax revenue and indirect sales to other local businesses over time. This will occur in a phased approach, as the various stages of the Northstar Mountain Master Plan (NMMP) will be completed over many years.
If the plan is approved, what is the timeline for the first project to be started, and when will all of the proposed projects be completed?
The preparation, review, public comment, and certification process for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) generally takes just over a year to complete. Once the EIR is certified and a Conditional Use Permit is obtained, improvement plans can be submitted, which generally take about 4 months to process.
The possibility for construction to commence however, would be dependent on when capital is allocated by Vail Resorts and its Board of Directors for projects to get underway. Given the NMMP includes mountain improvements proposed over the next 20 or so years, project build out would likely occur around 2034.
What does the terrain look like, and where is it located? What is the split among degree of difficulty? How many acres will be added?
Proposed terrain is located within the existing resort core and extends onto the eastern and western slopes of Mt. Pluto, the northeastern slopes of Sawtooth Ridge, and Lookout Mountain. The terrain is diverse on varied aspects and slopes, and includes conventional ski trails, tree island ski trails and tree skiing to provide an array of terrain offerings.
Approximately 293 acres of new groomable ski trails are proposed with over 700 acres of new skiable terrain, resulting in approximately 3,870 acres of total skiable terrain (originally reported 3,170 acres + 700 acres) at Northstar. The proposed trail network at Northstar will accommodate the entire range of skier ability levels – from beginner to expert.
How will this improve overall skier circulation?
The proposed projects within the Northstar Mountain Master Plan will improve overall skier circulation through a variety of means including:
- Increase the variety and improve the balance of beginner, intermediate and expert terrain by creating a wider, more diverse array of terrain offerings, such as access to the Sawtooth Range, which will facilitate an improved and extended vacation experience for the destination and day use skier.
- Improve distribution of skiers/snowboarders across the mountain to facilitate circulation and reduce congestion and crowding in higher-use areas and on trails returning to the Village at Northstar.
- Improve existing mountain access from the village by skiers during peak access times.
How did the new on-mountain projects that were completed in advance of this past (11-12) season affect the guest experience?
The projects completed in advance of the 2011-2012 winter season (including the installation of the Promised Land Express lift on The Backside, the addition of two new ski trails, and the construction of the Zephyr Lodge) offered access to additional ski trails, provided new tree skiing pods, and successfully changed skier patterns on the mountain resulting in shorter lift lines and less congestion on ski trails. In addition, guests also experienced more on-mountain restaurant seating and additional food options.
How do the proposed project improvements move Northstar in the direction of more of a destination resort than a day ski area?
The proposed project improvements will provide resort guests with a wider, more diverse array of terrain offerings and recreational activities, facilitating an improved and extended vacation experience for the destination and day use guest.
In addition, the proposed projects will help Northstar maintain its competitiveness as a resort destination by upgrading existing services, amenities and operations. This includes providing a better balance of skier amenities, improving lift technology, and increasing the variety of ski trails and activities.
The proposed projects will change the skier capacity of Northstar and employment. How will this traffic increase be addressed and mitigated? Are any alternate transportation systems proposed?
The major mountain capacity constraining factor at Northstar is parking and transportation, rather than ski lift or ski terrain capacity. Access to Northstar is limited by the number of on-site parking spaces. Typically when these spaces are filled, the resort notifies the customer through various means that parking is unavailable.
With the exception of approximately 20 parking spaces associated with the program-level future cross-country center relocation, Northstar does not propose to expand parking facilities in connection with the proposed NMMP project. Thus, the effective winter capacity of the resort will not be affected by the project insofar as parking is currently the primary limiting factor.
Additional parking is not contemplated with the NMMP, as the goal is to accommodate the approved bed-base and commercial venues and extend the vacation experience for the destination visitor. So long as the amount of parking remains the same, additional lift or terrain capacity will have no affect on the number of skiers at Northstar on peak winter weekends, other than the net increase from new skiers associated with new real estate development (not a part of this project). This potential increase has already been factored into previous project calculations for increased vehicle trips. However, it is acknowledged that it is possible that the new ski terrain offering may induce day skiers to come to Northstar rather than to other ski resorts in the region during non-peak conditions when there is available parking in Northstar’s day skier parking facilities. The NMMP Final EIR estimated that the proposed NMMP at buildout could generate 341 daily round trips or 682 daily one-way trips during non-peak traffic conditions when adequate day skier parking is available at Northstar. These potential additional daily one-way trips would not trigger a level of service impact on project area roadways and intersections during off-peak conditions.
Within the program-level proposals, the Castle Peak Intercept Parking Lot Transportation Gondola would provide convenient access to the Village at Northstar from the parking lots located at resort’s entrance near SR 267. This would remove cars from Northstar Drive and reduce traffic on the resort’s main thoroughfare.
In addition, the plan proposes improvements to mountain ski trail access for residential developments to reduce vehicle trips to the Village at Northstar and on-site day use parking.
Lastly, the proposed NMMP improvements are intended to expand and extend the vacation experience into the mid-week, and improving overall resort traffic circulation.
How much more parking is being requested based on the proposed improvements?
Only minor parking is being proposed – to the order of 20 spaces – near the proposed site of the relocated cross-country center.
Will we see more crowding on the mountain as these projects are completed?
The goal of the proposed project is to improve skier circulation within existing terrain and the distribution of skiers/snowboarders across the mountain to facilitate circulation and reduce congestion and crowding in higher-use areas and on trails returning to the Village at Northstar.
Additionally, because Northstar does not propose to expand parking facilities in connection with the proposed NMMP project, the winter capacity of the resort will not be affected by the project insofar as parking is currently the primary limiting factor.
Will there be more snowmaking? How will it affect watersheds? Where will Northstar get the water to support the proposed snowmaking system expansion?
The Northstar Mountain Master Plan proposes an increase to snowmaking coverage and the quality and efficiency of the snowmaking system to provide for early season trail coverage and the ability to offer a high-quality ski/snowboard experience in low snow years. The NMMP includes installation of technologically efficient snowmaking equipment and control systems to improve the water and energy efficiencies associated with snowmaking.
Sources of water at Northstar are two natural spring collection systems (Sawmill Flat and Big Springs) and Martis Creek, which feed the manmade Northstar reservoir; the TH2 well; the Golf Course well; the Comstock well; the Rendezvous well; and Concert Park Lake in Martis Camp. Snowmaking water is pulled directly from the Northstar reservoir and/or Concert Park Lake in Martis Camp. Additionally, it can be pulled from the treated TH2 well source.
There are approximately 400 acres of existing groomed trails with snowmaking. An additional approximate 300 acres of snowmaking coverage is proposed with the NMMP.
How do these projects affect local wildlife, and what mitigation efforts will be put in place?
The EIR identifies feasible mitigation measures to reduce or avoid impacts, and evaluates the project’s potential to contribute to cumulative impacts in the region. All potential impacts to biological resources can be mitigated to less than significant levels.
In addition, the NMMP includes the dedication of land in Zone E to be placed into a conservation area and managed to maintain and enhance habitat values.
What Best Management Practices will be used when these projects are constructed?
Construction of the proposed facilities will include implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs). BMPs include measures to protect wildlife, water quality, air quality, and ensure site restoration. The following BMPs are examples of the stringent practices we follow when constructing a project:
- Prepare a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP). This plan will include feasible and effective BMPs for:
- Temporary erosion control
- Sediment control
- Soil stabilization
- Non-stormwater management
- Post-construction storm water management
- Good Housekeeping Practices
- Materials Handling
- BMP maintenance, inspection, and repair
- Establish and implement an environmental training and awareness program before commencement of construction activities. All levels of field management and construction personnel would be informed about environmental protection, including water quality protection (as outlined in the SWPPP) and the seriousness of noncompliance. Training would take place at the design level and at the contractor level.
- Implement dust control measures and measures to monitor equipment emissions.
- Implement measures to avoid the spread of noxious weeds such as cleaning contractor equipment prior to mobilization and utilizing weed-free materials.
- To the extent feasible, minimize disturbance of vegetation during construction activities. Minimize the area of disturbance at all times. As necessary, delineate the area of disturbance with fencing or flagging.
- Provide onsite supervision to prevent unnecessary disturbance. Trained construction inspectors will monitor construction activities for compliance, with support from qualified biologists where necessary or required.
- Flag or fence sensitive resources to avoid disturbance.
- Implement preconstruction surveys to determine if construction activities could affect sensitive species and implement applicable and feasible measures to avoid and/or minimize effects on sensitive species.
- After tree removal, chip or masticate slash onto the ski trail to protect the soil surface.
- Re-vegetate areas where the soil profile has been disturbed by grading or smoothing.
- Install and maintain water bars on ski trails.
Are there plans for additional on-site lodging/residences?
Within the Northstar Mountain Master Plan currently under review, there are no plans for additional on-site lodging or residences. The plan consists only of on-mountain recreational and skier service improvements.
What is the difference between "project" and "program" level proposals within the plan?
Improvements anticipated to be constructed in the near term are considered "project-level" and have sufficient details to be analyzed. Other improvements outlined are only conceptually designed, with further details to be added in the future. These improvements are considered "program-level."
Placer County will prepare an EIR that includes both a programmatic analysis of the overall NMMP and associated program-level components and a project-specific environmental analysis for the project-level components. A Program EIR is appropriate for land use decision-making of a broad level that contemplates further, site specific review of individual development proposals. Project EIRs are appropriate for specific proposed projects with site-specific environmental review. Program-level NMMP components will be evaluated as they relate to the broad, overall project plan. Project-level NMMP components contain enough specificity to conduct a site-specific, project-level environmental review and will allow the consideration of discretionary approvals such as Use Permits.
Examples of proposed projects:
- C, J, V, W and Z lifts;
- all snowmaking;
- Summit Deck and Grille expansion;
- Backside warming hut;
- Zoning Text Amendment
- Q lift and Castle Peak transport Gondola;
- skier service site at the top of the C lift;
- skier service site at the top of Lookout Mountain;
- Cross Country Center/Skier Service Site
Why is Northstar requesting a Zoning Text Amendment in the Timberland Production Zone?
Northstar is requesting a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) in the Timberland Production Zone (TPZ) to maintain the natural resource values that are associated with lands zoned TPZ and allow additional ski and snowboard opportunities in them.
Northstar resort lands are generally comprised of four zoning designations, including TPZ, Forestry, Residential (multi-family and single family), and General Commercial as contained within the Martis Valley Community Plan (MVCP) that was updated in 2003. The MVCP, in combination with the Placer County General Plan, will guide the physical, social, and economic development of the Martis Valley area, specifically through the aforementioned zoning designations.
As Northstar continues to improve the overall skiing and snowboarding experience, we have developed the Northstar Mountain Master Plan (NMMP). In developing the Master Plan, we have learned that there are some limitations in the MVCP on how and where certain types of improvements can be made on lands within the existing resort boundary zoned for TPZ. While the County's TPZ zoning district allows for a variety of recreational uses, "ski lift facilities" and "ski runs" are not specifically identified as permitted uses. The MVCP recognized this as a potential issue and provided a conceptual solution: amend the zoning code to allow ski-related facilities in lands zoned for TPZ under specific conditions, called a Zoning Text Amendment.
Northstar is applying for a ZTA as part of the NMMP to allow for the orderly development and implementation of ski lifts, trails, snowmaking and related facilities on lands current zoned for TPZ within lands boundaries that are owned and/or existing ski resorts within Placer County. Additionally, to alleviate public and County concerns, raised after issuance of the Notice of Preparation of the EIR, regarding unforseen impacts of the project in the Tahoe Basin, Northstar revised the ZTA to exclude TPZ lands in the Tahoe Basin. It is an opportunity to balance the environment with the economy in such a way as to allow both to succeed, without removing the property from timber production.
What uses would be allowed in Timberland Production Zone with the Zoning Text Amendment?
If approved by Placer County, the proposed ZTA would allow for the following narrowly defined "ski lift facility" and "ski run" uses:
- Ski lift facilities including powered conveyors for transporting skiers or sightseers up a mountainside, with terminals at each end and supporting towers along the route. Ski lifts can be chair lifts, surface lifts, gondolas, or cable cars.
- Ski runs including slopes intended for downhill skiing, and paths or trails for cross-country or Nordic skiing.
- Ski facilities including snowmaking and related non-commercial support facilities.
In an effort to be sensitive to the long-term viability and associated retention of timber lands, of the TPZ, Northstar narrowed the Placer County allowed use definition of "ski lift facilities" and "ski runs" with the proposed ZTA to exclude helicopter skiing facilities, equipment rental and storage lockers, restaurants and bars, and overnight lodging accommodations. It is not the intent of the proposed ZTA to allow for commercial facilities such as restaurants, ski rental shops or ticket booths in TPZ, rather allow only those uses necessary to operate and directly support ski lifts, ski trails, and snowmaking.
There are a variety of uses that are currently permitted within the TPZ (Section 17.16.010(D) of the Placer County Code - Timber Production Zone – Allowable Land Uses and Permitted Requirements) that are more intensive than the proposed ZTA ski use as follows:
- Equestrian Facilities
- Fisheries and Game Preserves
- Mining (Surface and Subsurface)
- Oil and Gas Wells
- The Manufacturing and Processing of Lumber and Wood Products
- Commercial Water Extraction and Storage
- Rural Recreational Uses - outdoor archery, pistol, rifle and skeet clubs and facilities, health resorts, waterski and wakeboard lakes and clubs, and hunting/fishing clubs
- Accessory Storage
- Airfields and Landing Strips
As can be seen from this list, most of the permitted uses are less sensitive to the long-term retention of timber resources than the proposed ski related uses. Allowing the implementation of "ski lift facilities" and "ski runs" will allow Northstar to improve the overall skiing and snowboarding experience and proceed with the Master Plan, while assuring that the long-term sustainability and integrity of lands zoned for TPZ is maintained.
Does the Northstar Mountain Master Plan and the associated proposed Zoning Text Amendment create a precedent for new ski resorts in Placer County?
No, the proposed ZTA as part of the NMMP does not create a precedent for new ski resorts in Placer County. New ski resorts and associated commercial support facilities would not be an allowed use in the TPZ. Only existing ski resorts outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin that own or could eventually own TPZ lands (Royal Gorge, Sugar Bowl, Alpine Meadows, and Squaw Valley) would have the ability to submit for a conditional use permit for the development of ski lift facilities or ski runs as potential expansions of existing resorts (see Exhibit 1, right). However, there are no applications before the County for these resorts to expand and consideration of potential expansions of other resorts is speculative at this time. In addition, any proposal for a future expansion of an existing resort onto TPZ land would require separate and independent analysis, environmental review and entitlement. Additionally, the land surrounding existing ski resorts in Placer County, including Northstar, is mostly federally owned, and as previously stated, is not subject to Placer County zoning regulations or the associated ZTA proposal (see Exhibit 2, right). Any proposal on these lands would be subject to US Forest Service policies, including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, entirely independent of Placer County.
What are the impacts of the Northstar proposed Zoning Text Amendment within the Tahoe Basin?
The Zoning Text Amendment excludes TPZ lands in the Tahoe Basin. Therefore, there are no basin impacts associated with the proposed ZTA.
Does Northstar plan to expand into the Tahoe Basin?
No, Northstar does not plan to expand into the Tahoe Basin. Improvements proposed by the NMMP are located outside the Tahoe Basin, with the exception of minor modifications to existing facilities already located within the Lake Tahoe Basin. These minor modifications are located on Mt. Pluto and include a snowmaking line on the existing Challenger ski run and improvements to the existing Summit Deck and Grille facility. These two project components will result in less than 1 acre of ground disturbance on previously disturbed ground, will avoid tree removal, and will be presented to TRPA for entitlement review, if necessary. No other improvements are contemplated within the Tahoe Basin. Additionally, Northstar is mostly surrounded by federally owned land to the south, further restricting any resort expansion into the Tahoe Basin (see Exhibits 4 and 5, right).
Lastly, the proposed ZTA excludes Tahoe Basin lands.