Owner hopes that historic Feather River Inn will reopen in 2015
Feather River Inn project still alive
The Feather River Inn, built in 1915, boasts a history as a mountain retreat for the wealthy and elite. The historical three-story building has been passed from owner to owner, and currently belongs to Mike Schoff, the former owner of the Schomac Group Inc., who plans on renovating the resort. Photo courtesy Plumas County Museum
Along Highway 70, west of Graeagle, lies a sleepy-looking European-style chalet. The grand historic building is nestled beyond a small executive golf course and a few unfinished cottages.
It looks out of place and unresolved under the cover of the tall pines, and it leaves passersby with a lingering question — what is happening with the Feather River Inn?
Built in 1915 by French architect Frederic C. Whitton, the Feather River Inn was part of a trend of mountain resorts surfacing all over the country.
In its heyday, the resort had 125 guest rooms. It had a five-lane Olympic-sized swimming pool, a saloon, a golf course, a theater, a grand dining hall, an extensive library and even a landing strip.
It had its own livery stables, cattle ranch and dairy and supplied its own electricity.
The vacation spot was a place for the elite to come from the city and enjoy the mountains without having to venture into truly rustic conditions.
However, by 1970, the resort style of vacationing was dwindling in America. After a few years of the inn being a prep school, the University of the Pacific took over operations.
By 2004, the university had no more funding to support the property, so it was sold.
New owner, new vision
In July 2005, Michael Schoff, owner of Schomac Group Inc., a real-estate development investment company based out of Tucson, Ariz., purchased the property.
Born in Sacramento, Schoff spent many a vacation at his grandfather’s cabin in Tahoe. His appreciation of mountains and woods of Northern California generated his interest in the Feather River Inn, and other properties in Plumas County including the Nakoma Golf Resort.
The Schomac Group intended to restore the dilapidated resort back to the beacon of tourism it once was in Plumas County.
Phase 1 of the project entailed renovation of the three-story lodge to include 101 standard rooms and luxury suites.
Phase 1 also would remodel the large dining area and the existing cabins, as well as the Rainbow Theater and the Gold Nugget Saloon.
In Phase 2, the developers would construct 112 condominiums on the 114-acre property. According to Schoff, the condominiums would “provide economic stability to the resort operations” by serving as rentals, guesthouses or permanent residences.
However, in order to develop the residences, the Schomac Group needed to ask the county Board of Supervisors to change the county’s official zoning and permitting process as established in its general plan.
Problems with the zoning
In 2006, Feather River Inn project manager John McMorrow approached the county about the need to change the property from recreation and open space use zones to residential use zones.
As it was, the property was divided into 76 acres of Rec-10 and R-10 zones, with a maximum of one dwelling unit per 10 acres of property. The 38 acres left was open space, where no dwelling units were allowed.
Making it residential would allow one dwelling per acre of the property.
Rebecca Herrin, the senior planner for the Plumas County Planning Department, concluded that rezoning the property would not have a negative effect on the environment.
Receiving her recommendation, the Board of Supervisors had to hold a hearing before the board could make an amendment to the general plan.
On Dec. 12, 2006, the public voiced discrepancies concerning the rezoning of open space. According to a Feather Publishing article written at the time, many members of the public were concerned that the condominiums would make an impact on the environment, and there wasn’t enough reassurance to the contrary.
In summer 2008, following the receipt of the proposed general plan amendment, the Board of Supervisors prepared an environmental impact report. It reiterated that there would not be a negative environmental effect from the rezoning.
An inn tangled in litigation
In spring 2009, High Sierra Rural Alliance, a legal group that monitors land use in Sierra and Plumas counties and had been following the process of the Feather River Inn, appealed the general plan amendment and rezoning to the Board of Supervisors. It also disputed the findings of the environmental impact report.
However, the board denied the alliance’s appeal May 5, 2009.
“It seemed from our point of view the biggest threat was the lack of protection of open space in the general plan,” said alliance CEO Stevee Duber. “(The Feather River Inn) was a smaller example of the bigger picture.”
Thus, July 6, 2009, the group filed suit in Plumas County Superior Court against the county’s approval of the project.
“Although we support the renovation of the Inn and the use of the property as a resort, the approved project proposes considerable development on open space lands, including the floodplain and sensitive wildlife habitat area to the east of Bonta Creek,” read a statement on the alliance’s website.
The woes of Bonta Creek
The master plan of the project was to build 44 condominiums near Bonta Creek, which flows on the east side of the property. However, the project was red-tagged, due to the litigation, and the Schomac Group had to winterize the entire project.
According to Senior Planner Herrin, the alliance posed more than 20 allegations on the project. Only one judgment was determined in reference to an ambiguous definition of the floodplain of Bonta Creek.
The ruling from the court reported that the alliance said the proposed units were located within the floodplain of the creek. The group advocated that the environmental impact report did not specifically disclose where the construction would be done. It argued the proposed project rests in the floodplain of the creek and also in an important wildlife habitat.
“No way would we build in the floodplain,” said Schoff about the alliance’s conclusion. “That’s silly.”
However, in 2011, Judge Gayle Gwynup ruled that the designation of the floodplain was unclear in the master plan and the environmental impact report. The developers would have to do a current drainage study on the specified area in order to continue working on Phase 2 of the project.
“We’re glad that we hung in there. It’s been a rough ride,”
Ryan Schoff, Schomac Group Inc.
Economic obstacles and new hopes
All the while, the economy fell into the recession.
According to a statement from Schoff, as a result of the poor economy, the group's principal lender on the project could no longer supply finances.
In August 2011, the Schomac Group Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an Arizona court. The group was in debt to the Plumas County tax collector and nearly a dozen Plumas and Sierra County businesses, as well as various other entities linked to its other developments.
At the end of 2012, the company sold the property to a group of investors who had plans to restart the development of the inn.
Though Schoff is now retired and no longer an owner of the Schomac Group, his connection and appreciation for the project is still intact.
This winter, he contacted the investment group to get an update on the status of the project. He found that its financing plans had not played out as expected.
Schoff said at that time he was in the position to purchase the inn himself. The sale was negotiated and completed in December, with the help of the Schomac Group Inc., which is now run by his son, Ryan.
Schoff stated that it was important to him that “the continuity that the Schomac Group Inc. had with the project remains” a part of the project.
“The original vision that (we) had for the Feather River Inn remains intact,” stated Schoff. “(I) remain as passionate and resolved as ever toward bringing the Feather River Inn back to its original grandeur.”
He said with Schomac’s help, he is seeking additional financial relationships so he can be prepared to move forward, which could happen as soon as this summer with a reopening in early 2015, just in time for the inn’s centennial celebration.
“We’re always planning things,” said Ryan Schoff, “always trying to keep things ready … We’re glad that we hung in there. It’s been a rough ride.”
For more photos of the Feather River Inn, see last weeks printed newspaper.