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Judge temporarily blocks expansion of Tahoe resort

HOMEWOOD, Calif. (AP) -- A federal judge in Sacramento has temporarily blocked the planned expansion of a 50-year-old ski resort on Lake Tahoe's west shore, ruling that regional planners did not adequately consider a smaller and, therefore, less environmentally intrusive overhaul of Homewood Mountain Resort before they approved the project.

Ruling late Friday in a lawsuit brought last year by environmental groups, U.S. District Judge William Shubb ordered the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and Placer County to go back and re-evaluate whether a scaled-back makeover would be financially viable for the resort's owners.

The judge wrote in a 114-page opinion that because the regulators who gave the expansion the go-ahead in 2011 relied on incomplete information from an independent development consultant, “The economic feasibility of the reduced alternative is unknown beyond the obvious conclusion that it would be less profitable.”

JMA Ventures and Homewood Village Resorts had hoped to turn Homewood from an unpretentious -- and currently unprofitable -- day ski area into an overnight, year-round destination by adding a four-story hotel, condominiums, townhouses and ski-in chalets and more retail shops.

The alternative Shubb wants reconsidered would reduce the maximum number of residential units and hotel rooms allowed from 336 to 284, according to his written decision.

The judge's order does not mean the project may not be allowed to proceed under its original scope, only that construction may not begin without further study.

The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore, the groups that sued to prevent the resort's plans, cheered the delay.

“This decision is yet another reminder that the agencies entrusted with protecting beautiful Lake Tahoe, which has already suffered so much from runaway development, must not continue to allow private gain at the Lake's expense,” said Earthjustice lawyer Wendy Park, whose firm represented the groups.

JMA Ventures said it did not plan to appeal, noting that Shubb had agreed with the company and Tahoe-area planners on other points of contention, such as whether adequate consideration was given of the approved project's potential effects on noise and air quality.

“JMA looks forward to working with the county and TRPA to address Judge Shubb's concern,” company chairman Art Chapman said.

“However, the ruling does nothing to undermine JMA's resolve to redevelop Homewood into the charming, environmentally sensitive, viable project it has the potential to be.”

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