Despite pleas from residents of a tiny Sierra Nevada community, Mariposa County supervisors neared final approval Tuesday of a controversial resort village and conference center on the doorstep of Yosemite National Park.
The sprawling SilverTip Resort Village, which has been in the works for more than four years in tiny Fish Camp, is being welcomed by some as a high-quality project that would provide an economic boost in a region lacking jobs.
But residents of the enclave along California 41, just a few miles south of Yosemite, said it represents the sort of dense, overambitious development that would trample the ambience of one of the key portals to the beloved national park.
Barbara Taylor, an inn owner in Fish Camp, accused the board of "going against the community," noting that 150 property owners had signed a petition opposing the development, which she called "the most controversial project in county history."
The board voted 4 to 0, with Supervisor Lee Stetson abstaining, to approve an environmental impact report for the development, which is being undertaken by PacificUS, a Pasadena-based development company. A final vote on the development is set for Dec. 2.
Stetson called the project "a major jolt to the community" and criticized his colleagues for trying to "shoehorn this project onto the site." He added that approval would send "a poor and even alarming message to the community. Fish Camp is being unfairly asked to compromise its character and future."
But the board majority were bullish about a project that, they argued, would give the county a high-class conference center and hotel that it could be proud of and provide about 100 jobs.
In a series of votes Tuesday afternoon, the board agreed to boost the number of hotel rooms from 125 to 137 and increase commercial zoning from the original nine acres to nearly 16. They also granted approval for the 45-foot height of the hotel, which would exceed the community's 35-foot height limit.
Supervisor Gary Parker said the moves were justified, adding that the board had a duty "to make sure we come up with a viable project."
The project also includes 30 rental cabins spread across 29 acres.
Commercial space will include 10,000 square feet for shops, with apartment units for merchants.
Foes said the project would create problems in Fish Camp with parking, traffic, excessive light at night, blocked views, noise, sullied water quality in creeks and trampled forests, meadows and other open space.
"It seems like an inappropriate place to put something of that size," said George Whitmore of the Sierra Club.
Ken Gosting of Transportation Involves Everyone, a Merced-based public transportation advocacy group, said traffic created by the new resort would combine with additional motorists flocking to the Chukchansi Resort, an Indian casino and hotel along California 41 in Coarsegold, to create problems on the roads and with parking.
"Nobody looked at the cumulative impacts of these two resorts so close to the park," he said.
The project was first proposed in November 1999.