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Split Personality

Split Personality

Travel
posted: 01/19/1998

Incline Village, NV
Lake Tahoe locals call it Income Village, and a boat trip along the town's 7 miles of shoreline quickly reveals why. Waterfront mansions of timber, stone and glass sprawl across spacious lots forested with towering Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines. One estate looks like a French chateau, complete with fountains topped with statuettes of reveling Bacchae. Another grand manse-all 8,000 square feet of it-stands on land formerly occupied by seven more modest homes. The most imposing estate of all, owned by former Drexel Burnham Lambert junk-bond king Michael Milken, contains a couple of buildings totalling more than 38,000 square feet. Such hulking estates dwarf the few remaining Sixties-era cottages still perched on the premier stretch of North Lake Tahoe shoreline-cottages that these days sell for as much as $2 million.

But there is another side to Incline Village-a side you don't see from the lake. Between the shoreline estates and the mountaintop mansions lie the homes of 7,000 year-round residents. It's the kind of community where kids in their pajamas scamper down the street at twilight in summer, and the guy at the hardware store knows your name. People here work to keep their community communing-whether that means volunteering with the local chapter of the American Association of University Women or inviting foreign-exchange students from nearby Sierra Nevada College into their homes on Christmas Day.

It's a community in which the only traffic jams occur when there are big varsity games at Incline High. And it's a place with good public schools and a remarkable roster of town-owned parks and recreation facilities-including two beaches, two golf courses, a tennis club, a recreation center and gym, a wetlands area (for wastewater reclamation and birding) and ski areas for both alpine and nordic sliding. "Around the lake, this is one of the most ideal spots to live," says Diane Fisher, a travel agent and mother who has called Incline Village home for 21 years. "And there are a lot of us here who aren't millionaires."

In fact, Incline Village is full of people like Diane Fisher and her husband, Jim-fifty-somethings who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, courted at Squaw Valley and moved to Tahoe from Davis, Calif., in the Seventies so their three young kids could ski every day after school. And there are people, as well, like the Village Ski Loft's Steve and Betsy Hand, late-era Boomers who are perennially tanned from daily outings on their bikes or skis. Steve and Betsy were drawn to Tahoe by what Steve calls its "awesome beauty," and stayed because of all the outdoor sports. They joke that the dogs (a Golden Retriever and big black mutt) are their children and that the faithful employees who work at the ski shop are their family. "Instead of raising kids we spend our time going out and being kids ourselves," says Steve with an easy smile.

Situated on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe's north shore, Incline Village is midway between Reno to the north and Squaw Valley to the southwest; about a 45-minute drive from either. Incline Village began life in 1959 as what was then a unique concept: a master-planned vacation community. The first homes and condominiums were centered around a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. championship golf course. Soon, a small ski area (now called Diamond Peak) opened. It was designed by Austrian-born resort consultant Luggi Foeger, who also designed Alpine Meadows and Steamboat Springs. Later, a second golf course-designed by Jones Jr.-was added. The Seventies saw a continuing boom, and Incline Village soon extended from the shores of Lake Tahoe through thick pine forests up the lower flanks of Mt. Rose.

Today, more than 70 percent of the community's 9,000 residences are primary, year-round homes. Approximately one in every four offer views of the lake. Other homes have mountain views or are nestled creekside amid tall evergreens. The median price forr a turn-key single-family home in Incline Village is $300,000 and three-bedroom homes can be found for as low as $160,000. Less than 10 percent of Incline's year-round residents have a household income that exceeds $150,000 a year, and the community's median household income stands at a modest $44,000 a year. Nevada's lenient tax laws-the draw for wealthy second-home owners seeking tax shelters-benefit North Lake Tahoe's locals, too. Nevada residents don't pay state income tax, state corporate tax, state inheritance, estate or gift taxes or tax on dividends.

Most of those who call Incline home decide they want to live there and then find a way to make it work. Many commute to Reno. Others telecommute or set up a home-based business. Some are pilots, some are writers, some are entrepreneurs who have moved sports marketing businesses, small publishing companies or computer software consulting firms to Incline Village. Others find new careers in Incline, working in real estate sales or property management.

When the Fishers moved to Incline in 1976 with their children, Jim was starting a business in Reno and Diane was getting her real-estate broker's license. "We were starting over," she says. Now that the children are grown, Jim spends four to five days a week working in the San Francisco Bay Area. "There are many families here in which one spouse commutes," explains Diane.

Incline Village's commercial district is distinctly lacking in charm, but otherwise the small town offers everything mountain dwellers need-a good public library, a great grocery store, a decent espresso shop, several top-notch ski and bike shops, a couple of video rental places, a few great restaurants and a movie theater that gets first-run movies the same week they open in Los Angeles. Reno, with its international airport, shopping malls and discount stores such as WalMart and Costco, is conveniently located just over the hill. And Mt. Rose Ski Area, which gets Tahoe's highest, driest snowfall, is just 15 minutes from town. Tahoe's famous 14-mile Flume Trail ride, which contains one of the most renowned stretches of single track in the West, is easily accessible from every corner of town. Best of all, the low-key community has none of what refugees from the city are fleeing; those who do find themselves craving hustle, bustle and attitude can get their fix on peakweekends in Squaw Valley and Tahoe City.

In addition, because Incline Village started out as a planned community, it offers a full complement of recreational facilities, available to residents at a discount and managed by something called the Incline Village General Improvement District (IVGID). During high season, greens fees on Incline's Championship golf course run $100 for nonresidents but only $35 for property owners. Lift tickets at Incline's family-oriented Diamond Peak Ski Area run $37 a day for adults-except for property owners, who pay only $8 a day. The community's greatest problem seems to be the constant infighting that occurs on the IVGID's Board of Trustees, where politicking over the cost of golf passes for homeowners or improvements at the ski area is never-ending.

"There aren't many other hassles here," says Steve Hand. And while the continuing influx of billionaires may be perturbing tosome, it's a phenomenon that doesn't seem to be affecting the tenor of the town. "It's a friendly place to live with easy access to mountain biking, skiing and all the other outdoor activities we like," says Hand. "You'll never know how beautiful this place is until you look at Lake Tahoe for the first time. It takes your breath away."

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