A group of about 12 people wearing cool-weather jackets walking on a dirt road near the site of the Tioga Inn development project.

Mono County Supervisors tackle the big picture on Tioga Inn, direct major fixes

After two lengthy days of public meeting and deliberation, the Mono County Board of Supervisors sent the Tioga Inn project back to the developer and staff for major improvements to the design and content.

The Board affirmed its commitment to protect the long-term best interests of Mono County and its residents and visitors. Supervisors recognized the project will set a precedent for large development throughout the county and frequently noted the need to get the Tioga Inn project right, especially in light of its prominent location and size relative to the existing community.

Supervisors are expecting significant project design improvements that will reduce visual impacts, resolve fire concerns, and add a safe pedestrian route between Lee Vining and the project site. The Mono Lake Committee continues to work closely with the Lee Vining community and looks forward to engaging with Mono County staff to craft significant changes that will produce a project that respects the local community and the scenic Mono Basin.

The Board tentatively scheduled a July 20 special meeting an August 6 meeting when they can consider the improved project.

Eleventh-hour project changes

On Monday, thoughtful input from public agencies, local residents, and Mono Lake Committee members and staff highlighted the severity of the significant impacts associated with the Tioga Inn project. The public was overwhelmingly in support of denying or significantly altering the project as proposed. Various last-minute project adjustments were suggested by the developer, but they did not resolve the core flaws of the project.

On Tuesday, the Board dissected a host of issues stemming from the project, working from a 16-point discussion topic list. At the beginning of the day the developer introduced another eleventh-hour change—a clustered building alternative that would reduce scenic impacts. The developer had previously rejected this alternative in the Final Subsequent Environmental Impact Report. Although information on this concept was lacking, the Board saw the potential to reduce scenic impacts through a hybrid approach, referred to as the “Combined Alternative,” using elements from Alternative 6 and the previously rejected Clustered Alternative. The Combined Alternative would include only one-story buildings to eliminate line-of-sight structure visibility from the South Tufa shoreline. The Board requested updated drawings and analysis to clarify and fully illustrate this direction.

A bright light from the green hills across Mono Lake shines and reflects a line of yellow light on the blue rippling water.
(Click to enlarge.) In an effort to assess the effects of reflective surfaces at the proposed Tioga Inn project site, Mono Lake Committee staff brought a 2×3-foot mirror to the site and photographed the reflection from South Tufa. This photograph was presented to the Board. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

The decision to send the project back for improvements

After a lengthy Tuesday morning discussion, Supervisor Fred Stump asked a clarifying question about where the project was going. In response, Supervisor Bob Gardner made a motion to deny the project as proposed based on the adverse significant impacts; the motion received no second. Moments later Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz asked if there was a motion to approve the project as proposed, and no Supervisor made such a motion. It was clear that the Board was committed to finding a path forward that embraced modification and further mitigation of the project.

Consequently, the Board continued their discussion and analysis and ultimately decided to send the project back to Mono County staff and the developer to make a number of improvements to the proposal:

  • Provide site drawings and visual analysis in the context of a Combined Alternative
  • Provide specific clarifications to address additional visual concerns regarding site grading and reflection/glare as seen from South Tufa
  • Provide a plan for construction of a pedestrian and bicycle trail linking the site to Lee Vining, thus eliminating the existing hazardous journey made by pedestrians along the shoulder of Highway 395
  • Provide certainty on an emergency fire egress route and ensure the project does not exceed the reasonable service capacity of the Lee Vining Volunteer Fire Department
  • Clarification of a variety of matters, including shuttle service, the siting and use of a large propane tank, and how project phasing will occur

The Board decided to adjourn the Special Meeting on the Tioga Inn Specific Plan Amendment Plan until July 20 August 6, at which time they will have an opportunity to review the Combined Alternative details. Board members stressed the need for doing the project right, and acknowledged the significant amount of time that Mono County staff have put into the project so far. It is possible that additional time will be needed to lock in the important improvements and mitigations called for by the Board.

A colored diagram of the Tioga Inn Viewshed shows different areas in which the project would be visible or only 1-2 stories would be visible.
This viewshed analysis was presented to the Board to demonstrate how visible the buildings proposed in Alternative 6 of the Tioga Inn project would be across the Mono Basin. Analysis by Robbie Di Paolo (see how it was generated here).

Public involvement drives change

Thanks to the overwhelming public and community opposition voiced in the hearing, the Board listened and did not approve the project as proposed. Thank you to Mono Lake Committee members for your engagement—it made a difference! You can see letters the Board received about the project starting on page 27 here, and more letters here. In addition, 51 people spoke in person and over Zoom during Monday’s public comment period. People spoke and wrote powerfully, respectfully, and from their love for and experiences in the Mono Basin.

Stay tuned here for further updates and opportunities to participate in this public process.

Top photo by Elin Ljung: In September last year, the Mono County Planning Commissioners and members of the public visited the Tioga Inn project site.