ZEPHYR COVE - The U.S. Forest Service has announced it will bulldoze a 10,000-square-foot mansion on a chunk of lakefront property it acquired here in 1996.
The agency said it wants to manage the area as an "undeveloped outdoor recreation site," ending nearly 10 years of ambiguity on how the public land would be used.
The decision also dashes any hopes by five applicants to develop the property, christened Zephyr Shoals, with a 20-year lease from the Forest Service. The application process had been open from fall of 2003 through February 2004.
"I can't believe they are going to tear it down. It would be kind of like tearing down the Tallac site," said Evelyn Yonker, who was involved in an application to develop the site as the Tahoe Arts, Recreation and Learning Compound.
"It's part of history that doesn't need to be destroyed. It needs to be enhanced and used by the public," Yonker said.
Ideas ranged from a nonprofit arts and cultural site to a restaurant. One group, the name of which the Forest Service would not disclose, had a $2 million grant lined up to build an environmental education center.
"All of us could have done all that; we could have done it together," Yonker said.
Public meetings were held to solicit ideas on how to use the site from spring 2002 to fall 2003.
The agency now hopes to partner with Douglas County, which has a facility across the street that could provide parking.
Much of Zephyr Shoals' 81 acres once belonged to Wall Street tycoon Jack Dreyfus.
The property includes the mansion, built in the 1980s, with eight bedrooms and eight baths, a caretaker's cabin and paved lane from Highway 50.
The property is mostly undeveloped, and includes 3/4 mile of beaches and rocky shoreline, as well as forest and stream habitat.
Developing the property for public use would have required an investment of $2 million to $3 million to bring the multistory mansion up to code, as well as improve highway access and parking, said Maribeth Gustafson, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit forest supervisor.
"We found that the proposals were either lacking in financial stability in the long run or they were businesses better situated somewhere else in the community," Gustafson said. "I really didn't see any proposals that enhanced the site."
The agency would not release the names of applicants, citing confidentiality, but a few contacted the Tahoe Daily Tribune asking for help for their proposed project.
Transitioning the property to public use has been anything but easy. The Forest Service first acquired the acreage in a land swap in 1996, a deal which went unresolved for two years. Then a private company, Stateline-based Park Cattle Co., bought the mansion for $300,000 in 1997 and claimed the paved lane as its own. It chained the gate and blocked public access. The Forest Service secured all rights to the property in 2001.