Did you see Sierra Watch and Martis Valley in Wednesday’s Sacramento Bee?
Reporter Hudson Sangree provides a great update on our ongoing success, including some of our accomplishments so far and some of the challenges yet to come:
THE SACRAMENTO BEE – sacbee.com
Sales at wealthy enclave near Lake Tahoe help fund open-space drive
Published Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch, above, scans Martis Valley from a fire lookout. The area between Truckee and Lake Tahoe was scheduled for development of homes and stores, but the exclusive Martis Camp development has been paying transfer fees that fund land conservation. (pictured)
A mountain playground for the ultra-wealthy near Lake Tahoe is thriving in a moribund real estate market, spinning off millions of dollars in fees to help preserve open space in the scenic Martis Valley.
Empty lots in the Martis Camp development run from $500,000 to $2.8 million. Building a house that meets the developer’s quality standards costs millions more. Golf memberships run $120,000.
And demand is brisk. Nearly two-thirds of the 650 home lots in Martis Camp have been sold. Buyers include Silicon Valley executives, San Francisco financiers and a smattering of Sacramento-area residents, some from Granite Bay.
Last year alone, they snapped up properties worth $90.2 million, a 68 percent increase over 2010, said developer DMB/Highlands Group. Sales director Brian Hull says the elite buyers have faith in DMB to “deliver on the overall vision” of a community with $100 million in luxurious amenities.
Dozens of homes are under construction, and many perquisites are already in place. The palatial mountain-style homes overlook a golf course with emerald fairways and towering pines designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio, who also designed courses for Donald Trump.
A 50,000-square foot camp lodge modeled after the grand lodges of the national parks perches on a rocky outcropping above the 18th hole. It boasts gourmet restaurants, a spa and a sprawling men’s locker room with a bar and leather club chairs.
A family “barn” features a movie theater, soda fountain and bowling alley. It has an indoor basketball court and an outdoor stage that has hosted concerts by Lyle Lovett, Randy Newman and Jose Feliciano. The concerts, performed for about 400 to 500 members and guests, are free to homeowners – covered by their $8,500 a year in social dues.
A ski lodge, opening soon, and a chair lift provide direct access to the slopes of the Northstar California resort.
Is it a gated community? You bet. But forget the metal gates that swing open when you punch in a code. The gatehouse at Martis Camp is an imposing drive-through structure that could serve as the entrance to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. A guard turns back uninvited visitors.
“The wealthy are buying,” said Truckee real estate agent Alison Elder. “Martis Camp is one community that has shined through the recession. It’s an extremely high net worth environment up there.”
Another selling point of Martis Camp is its natural setting, with national forest on its borders, miles of trails and a trout stream flowing through its midst.
The community is tucked out of sight above the Martis Valley, a 45,000-acre stretch of sagebrush, pines and wetlands between Truckee and Lake Tahoe.
During the housing boom, the valley and its surrounding hillsides were slated for development of more than 6,000 homes, shopping malls and multiple golf courses north and south of Highway 267.
The Martis Valley Community Plan, approved by Placer County supervisors in 2003, led to a fierce fight between conservationists, developers and the county.
Today – after a court battle won by activists and a series of agreements with developers – those plans have been scaled back by nearly half, and 5,600 acres of open space have been preserved, much of it for public use.
That’s thanks in part to millions of dollars from homebuyers at Martis Camp, who must pay a 1 percent transfer fee every time a home changes hands. So far the fees have added up to about $3 million based on $300 million in sales, Hull said.
The money goes into the Martis Fund, which provides grants to conserve open space, restore habitat and promote workforce housing. It is overseen by leaders of two conservation groups, Sierra Watch and the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, and developers the Highlands Group, and Scottsdale, Ariz.-based DMB.
Tom Mooers is executive director of Sierra Watch, a group that formed to fight development in Martis Valley and successfully sued the county. He said the arrangement has been a “model of how developers, conservationists and elected officials can work together on a shared vision.”
“We’ve built a very good relationship with DMB,” he said.
East West Partners, which is building housing at Northstar, also agreed to transfer fees. Altogether, the fees could amount to $100 million over 25 years, Mooers said.
Fees from Martis Camp helped buy the 1,500-acre Waddle Ranch. The rangeland, once slated for hundreds of homes and a Walmart, is now open to public use.
Local residents said the agreements have allowed them to enjoy new open space while shifting the cost to wealthy owners of second homes.
Taking a walk along Martis Creek last week, Katia and Dave Campbell said they had moved from Davis to Truckee 20 years ago and were dismayed when massive development was proposed in the Martis Valley.
“Everybody wanted to come in and keep building, building, building,” Katia Campbell said.
Her husband, an environmental scientist, said he doesn’t like the gated and “elitist” nature of Martis Camp. But, he said, “We are very much aware that our wealthy neighbors fund our recreational activities. We’ve seen our recreational access increase rather than decrease,” as the area has been developed.
Outside of Martis Camp, much of the development planned for the Martis Valley has been slowed by the recession. For instance, only a small fraction of the hundreds of homes planned for the Highlands at Northstar have been built so far. Its developer, East West Partners, did a stint in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Today, the wide-open vistas of the Martis Valley, a backdrop for TV’s “Bonanza,” remain largely unchanged.
Standing on the fire tower on Martis Peak last week, Mooers gazed across an expanse of sagebrush flats, sparkling lakes and pine forests climbing hillsides to snowy summits.
Stretching below the lookout were the thickly forested slopes of a 6,900-acre parcel owned by Sierra Pacific Industries. Mooers said conservationists hope to work with the landowners to preserve much of the acreage.
Martis Valley (pictured)
WANT TO TOUR MARTIS CAMP?
What: The Excellence in Education Home Tour benefits local schools via the Tahoe Truckee Excellence in Education Foundation. Visitors will see five custom homes and Martis Camp amenities.
When: Aug. 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Last tour leaves at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $40 in advance at www.ExinEd.org. For more information call (530) 550-7984.