Favoring Conversion--Highland's Inn plan won't cause any environmental impacts.
Thursday, September 10, 1998
The proposal for timeshare use at the Highlands Inn has worried some neighbors. They fear more people, more impacts, less quality. As an environmentalist, I have reviewed these fears and the facts. The fears are groundless.
Intuitively, the conversion of the Highlands Inn hotel to a timeshare use, while retaining some hotel use, would not have an environmental impact unless there were additional building or occupancy. The Highlands Inn timeshare does not involve construction except for improvements to the sewage plant, so the only question about environmental impacts is whether there may be a higher occupancy.
The draft EIR is anything but cursory as it goes through the steps of analyzing various rates of occupancy upon water, sewage, and traffic impacts. It is noted the current use as a hotel is 2.2 persons per unit average, with an 80 percent occupancy.
The report also notes that national studies have found the "median visitor party size for timeshare facilities similar to the proposed project indicate a per-unit occupancy of 3.0." However, the draft EIR then goes on to conservatively include analyses of environmental impacts using party sizes of 3.5 and 3.8 persons.
One''s common sense would suggest as party size goes up, so would water and sewage, and possibly traffic. However, this timeshare proposal does not seek to externalize its costs upon the community. It provides for a substantial investment in infrastructure to avoid any such increases that might impact the community. Both the on-site laundry and the sewage treatment plant are being upgraded. This will reduce water usage and also improve the sewage effluent.
As to traffic the DEIR notes when the Highlands Inn hotel is full, each room generates an average of 11.9 trips per day. A nationwide standard for resort hotels shows a trip rate of 10.16 trips per unit per day. That same standard shows in the category, "Residential Condominium-Townhouse," 5.86 trips per unit per day. These facts demonstrate there is no truth to speculation traffic will increase with timeshare.
As to the issues of water, sewage and traffic, I concur with the draft EIR that conversion of the property to timeshare will benefit the environment more than does the present hotel use on the property.
On the fiscal front, the evidence is just as positive. The taxes will change somewhat from the current transient occupancy tax (TOT), to mostly property tax because timeshare is a real property interest. The resulting new revenues will benefit various local public agencies. It is estimated the new property tax revenues created by the timeshare could total almost a million dollars per year when the timeshare program is completed.
The Carmel Highlands Fire Protection District is right now investigating options to raise funds in order to renovate or replace the existing fire station in the Carmel Highlands. The estimated new revenues to the Fire District of approximately $200,000 per year created by the Highlands Inn timeshare would certainly help solve that problem.
As for transient occupancy tax revenues generated by the property, the county treasurer-tax collector performed a detailed analysis of this issue and reported the county will not lose TOT resulting from the Highlands Inn timeshare conversion since Highlands Inn TOT-paying transient guests and others will utilize other high-end county facilities. It is highly unlikely visitors won''t come to Monterey County because the Highlands Inn is unavailable to them.
In short, timeshare is a permitted use on the Highlands Inn property. The Highlands Inn should be commended for its environmentally sensitive proposal. This proposal is a rare win-win for the owner and the public.
Zan Henson is a Carmel Valley environmental attorney representing Highland''s Inn.