It isn't too late to save Carson Valley from the gondola

Back in the 1960s, there was a Nevada Civil Defense director who wanted to call out the National Guard to turn back fleeing Californians at Donner Pass in case of natural disaster or World War III.

Today, we might have to call out the Guard in order to save historic Genoa and the Carson Valley from rapacious land and real estate developers.

For evidence, we need look no further than the upscale resort project proposed recently by Kingsbury Summit Development Corp. of Incline Village.

Christy Chalmers of the Gardnerville Record-Courier provided the following insight into the project last weekend: "Angelo Morales doesn't let bright lights, altered hillsides or a towering gondola system cloud his vision of a $600 million luxury resort in the Sierra Nevada above Carson Valley."

Morales, the corporation's project director, envisions a $30 million gondola linking Walley's Hot Springs just south of Genoa to South Lake Tahoe's booming casino area. This massive eyesore would be accompanied by a large commercial center on 66 acres east of the Kingsbury ridge line that would include a 500-room hotel-casino, a 300-unit timeshare complex, housing for 200 employees and a 100,000-square-foot shopping center with retail stores, movie theaters, restaurants and other attractions.

Morales recently assured Douglas County commissioners that the gondola will "disappear into the trees" and that Carson Valley residents "won't see much." Oh sure, and if you believe that, I have some nice waterfront property in Washoe Valley that I'd like to sell you at a special discount price for readers of this column.

Given the commissioners' propensity for issuing building permits, construction could begin next year on the ambitious Kingsbury Summit resort project. With the group's high-rise condominiums already peeking over the Sierra ridge - and five more three-story condo buildings under construction at David Walley's Resort - they'll argue that the new development is merely an expansion of what's already under way.

And of course they'll talk about economic development and new jobs. But will they mention scarring one of the most beautiful landscapes in northern Nevada? Maybe not.

"It (the project) enhances the beauty of the area," Morales told local officials. But as far as I'm concerned, developers have already done quite enough to "enhance the beauty" of Genoa and the Carson Valley. If you've driven down Jack's Valley Road lately, you've seen the continuous sprawl of commercial and residential developments, and golf courses on what used to be desert rangeland in the Sierra foothills.

For example, the new shopping center at the intersection of U.S. 395 and Jack's Valley siphons-off some Carson City tax dollars for Douglas County, but it doesn't exactly enhance the Carson Valley landscape; however, it's better than the Indian casino they were considering at one point.

These kinds of developments are exactly what my Genoa friends were attempting to get away from when they moved to that historic little town off the beaten path. But now, they're being invaded by expatriate Californians who have little feel for the special nature of that unique area, so close to civilization but so far (until now) from Bay Area-type sprawl.

Morales said his gondola system, with 280 eight-passenger cars, could move about 2,400 people per hour - right down the mountain into Genoa. That may be his idea of "progress," but it's certainly not mine.

So what can those of us who are interested in preserving the remaining Carson Valley open space do about this development binge? For one thing, we can encourage Douglas County officials to use funds generated by a southern Nevada land swap to acquire undeveloped land in the county.

"This is the first concrete step in ensuring that Douglas County has the necessary tools to preserve open space," Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., said last Monday after Congress approved legislation to permit the land swap. Affected land would remain in agricultural use forever with residential development prohibited. That's a good start.

Next, Douglas County voters should consider a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax to pay for needed road construction and to save additional farmland. Carson City already has such a tax to finance part of the famous Carson Bypass (construction will begin any day now), and Carsonites approved an open space initiative as well.

In that regard, we should keep an eye on 400 acres of Masonic property at the mouth of Ash Canyon near the Community College. Do we really need more development on the mountainside west of town? I don't think so.

And finally, our neighbors in Douglas County should urge their commissioners to hold the line on the Kingsbury Summit project. To borrow a phrase from Nancy Reagan, "Just say no."

Time is of the essence because the project could be before the Planning Commission by next month and developers hope for final approval from elected commissioners by next March. The land the gondola and resort would cover is currently designated for forest and range usage. Let's keep it that way.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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