Upper Bear River Canyon looking toward Mokelumne Peak
The Hideout at Kirkwood, lately renamed the Hideout Lodge(at least for winter), is located off Highway 88 near Lower Bear River Reservoir. Recently, the Hideout was featured in a San Francisco Chronicle
story on mountain lodges in California. Its new website
shows the lodge offering helicopter rides and flights in and out; guided snowmobiling, climbing, backcountry skiing, snowboarding; and yoga, meals, and lodging. A three-night, four-day winter package ranges from $1,800 to $2,400 per person.
The Hideout was constructed by former Amador Water Agency and Jackson Valley Irrigation District General Manager Tom Hoover and family, who continue to operate it as Hoover Enterprises today. The log lodge and adjoining buildings have been used for years for weddings, family reunions, and other events. In the winter, the facilities have apparently been used as a base for winter sports, but with its new marketing campaign, the lodge appears to be expanding that use.
The Hideout’s website advertises itself as “California’s most secluded backcountry resort, with no detail forgotten.” But one important detail has long been missing: compliance with Amador County’s general plan and zoning code. The facility was built in an R1A, Single-Family Residential and Agricultural District where commercial event centers are generally not allowed (except for wineries and bed and breakfast inns that have received a conditional use permit). In addition, the Hideout doesn’t have permits for commercial operations on the adjoining Eldorado National Forest, which would be needed for any guided outings there. While the upper Bear River Canyon is home to the popular Silver Bear Snowmobile Trail, it’s also cherished for the quiet, uncrowded year-round backcountry recreation it provides.
While the Hideout’s existence and operations were hardly a secret, Amador County didn’t crack down on this nonconforming land use for years. Only after a serious medical incident at the location in 2016 did county staff begin to take a hard look at the event center. As described in a May 22, 2018, staff report to the Amador County Board of Supervisors, after the medical incident, “Initial contact was made with the land owner, and request was made to describe the ongoing uses of the property and secure the necessary permits to bring the facility into compliance with applicable codes. While progress was made over the course of the following year to correct deficiencies of the water and septic systems, no information was provided to the Planning Department to determine if the project met applicable zoning codes. Ultimately, the property owner was given a timeline to achieve compliance with land use codes in order to avoid the formal code enforcement process.”
This year, the owners attempted to persuade the county to interpret the zoning code to allow the Hideout to apply for a conditional use permit in the R1A zone. In April, the Planning Commission determined that while undefined “recreation uses” can be allowed with a conditional use permit, the Hideout’s events were not consistent with the code. The commission’s clear concern was that if event centers were determined to consistent with the zoning, they could proliferate throughout Amador County in the very common R1A zone. With the spread of event-holding wineries in many parts of the county, that is already a problematic issue.
The Hideout’s owners then appealed to the Amador County Board of Supervisors, who heard the matter on May 22. Local residents who have used and support the Hideout and business owners that benefit from it spoke in support of its continued operation. Other members of the public expressed sympathy for the owners but also urged the county not to open up residential-agricultural areas of the county to commercial uses.
The board directed county staff to amend the county code to allow the Hideout to legally operate in its area with a conditional use permit, but did not move to amend the zoning code to allow event-type uses in all R1A-zoned areas. The board also directed staff not to take zoning code-enforcement action against the Hideout while the code amendments are in process.
In May, county staff said they expected the code amendment process to take 90 days, but the matter has not come back before the planning commission or board of supervisors. Amendments to the zoning code are projects under the California Environmental Quality Act and must undergo full CEQA review. Conditional use permits are also subject to CEQA review. It’s likely the process to legalize the Hideout could be lengthy and expensive. Issues likely to come up in CEQA review are fire and other emergency response, water supply, and wastewater treatment, and the likelihood of similar commercial uses spreading in the Amador and El Dorado high country along Highway 88.