Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board approves shoreline plan, changes to development rights
Special to the Sierra Sun
After years of work, Lake Tahoe’s chief regulatory agency is altering two of its most significant programs impacting development in the basin.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board approved changes to its development rights system and updated its shoreline plan, which manages development on Tahoe’s shores.
Both moves were seen as monumental tasks; the former took the better part of three years while the latter took three decades.
“You just saw shining examples of what can be done when you bring people together, people who have disparate interests, different ideas, differing opinions, and you build relationships and trust,” TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta told the Tahoe Daily Tribune. “So the real import of what happened today is cementing a culture for the basin that proves to people that if we really want to get things done we’ll do it through collaborative work like this.”
TRPA’s development rights system formed through the second half of the 20th century. It was intended to stop runaway development by creating commodities — such as “tourist accommodation units” and “commercial floor area” — that developers would need to obtain before starting a project.
Community members pointed to the development rights system as having a choke-hold on development.
That was counter to TRPA’s 2012 update to its regional plan, which concluded that responsible redevelopment was actually good for the environment — a major paradigm shift for the agency.
A group consisting of various stakeholders convened to look at possible changes to the system in 2015.
The changes that made it before the governing board Wednesday included allowing the conversion of different development rights using environmentally-neutral exchange rates. The change essentially provides greater flexibility to developers who may be unable to obtain a certain type of development right.
The change does not affect the overall development right cap in the Tahoe Basin.
The changes also expand the income eligibility for residential bonus units to help the “missing middle” afford a home.
In assessing the gravity of the changes, Tahoe Prosperity Center CEO Heidi Hill Drum said the date would be remembered as the start of large scale revitalization in the basin.
“This is the day we will all look back on in terms of the first date of true revitalization in our community,” she said.
The shoreline was the one component of TRPA’s 1987 regional plan that was left unfinished. As Marchetta said Wednesday, “that can was kicked down the road.” At the time nobody would have predicted how long that road would be.
Numerous efforts over the decades came up short, effectively creating a 30-year-old prohibition on building in fish habitat.
TRPA narrowly adopted a shorezone ordinance in 2008, but it was challenged in court by The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club. The court overturned the ordinance in 2010, sending a message that the agency had to undertake a different process.
The message, Marchetta said, was that the old way of doing things would not work — it needed to be more collaborative.
This most recent process involved numerous stakeholders, including the Lake Tahoe Marina Association, Tahoe Lakefront Owners’ Association, the League, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, Nevada Division of State Lands, and California State Lands Commission.
The plan approved by the board Wednesday sets development caps and regulations for new structures, including piers, buoys and boat ramps.
The changes also create a new fee system intended to be fairly apportioned to various users. These include mooring registration fees, an increase in boat sticker fees, and boat rental concession fees, all of which will take effect before the 2019 boating season.
The program also will lead to stronger boater education and enforcement of the 600-foot no-wake zone, expansion of the no-wake zone to all of Emerald Bay, and new no-wake zone buffers around swimmers, paddlers and shoreline structures to prevent unsafe boating near the shoreline.
The plan is not perfect, but it is a significant step in the right direction, said Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer with the League to Save Lake Tahoe. In particular, the plan’s adaptability and its emphasis on education are positive aspects.
By no means was it an easy road to get to Wednesday, said Bob Hassett, who was representing the marina association. There were “some challenges and tense discussions.”
However, the marina group was in favor of the plan that came before the board Wednesday.
With the approval, TRPA will now start the work of implementing the plan in time for the 2019 season.
Ryan Hoffman is editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
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