Tahoe college takes hit for illegal grading on president’s house
October 27, 2014
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Sierra Nevada College will soon be adding an on-campus president's house, although the project got off to a rocky start earlier this month.
In order to prepare the building's site — a portion of the North Lake Tahoe Demonstration Garden — plants were moved in the first week of October, with the scope of work expanding beyond what was allowed by Tahoe's environmental laws.
"In our quest to protect the plants, the nature of the project grew and the amount of dirt that we thought we needed to move in order to re-plant these plants grew into what looked like a construction start," said Dianne Severance, director of grants and sponsored programs for the private, four-year college.
The college moved and mounded on-site approximately 20 cubic yards of dirt, said Tom Lotshaw, public information officer for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
Any project within the basin that moves more than 7 cubic yards of dirt requires a grading permit from the agency.
The college did not have a permit, so TRPA issued a cease and desist order on Oct. 8 for the college to immediately stop work, except to stabilize the site and prepare it for winter, Lotshaw said.
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"Moving plants is not a TRPA-permitted type of event, but in the enthusiasm and the project scope expanding, we jumped into a TRPA permit requirement unbeknownst to us," Severance said.
Potential penalties are under review, Lotshaw said. At a staff level, the largest penalty TRPA could impose is a double filing fee, he said. A grading permit filing fee is $501, so if penalized, the college's fee could be $1,002.
Any larger penalty would have to be approved by the TRPA governing board.
The college plans to submit an application for the house, which will incorporate garden modifications, to TRPA and Washoe County in December, Severance said.
The violation will not determine the outcome of the college's application, Lotshaw said.
"It was a minor violation," he said.
The recent sight of plants being uprooted and the use of a backhoe in the garden caught the attention of students.
"I saw the bulldozers out there for the garden, so of course I ran out there and talked to the construction guys, and they didn't mention the garden," Marina McCoy, an SNC student, said at an Oct. 15 Student Government Association meeting. "All they said was we're getting ready for the president's house … I think there was a lack of communication (between administration and students)."
In an interview this week, SNC President Lynn Gillette said articles were published in the college's newspaper, Eagle's Eye, and on-campus meetings were held informing students about the house.
Another student concern is the house's placement in the demonstration garden, which was designed as an educational community garden to promote lake-friendly landscaping and conservation planning.
"(The garden) brings the community in, strangers to the campus, and I feel like if there's a house there, not only is it kind of uncomfortable for the president, but uncomfortable for the people going there," SNC student Aaron Vanderpool said at the Oct. 15 meeting.
Four potential house sites were studied — the garden, two locations on Incline Way and one location off Country Club Drive, Severance said.
"Each had its pros and cons, and the demonstration site being adjacent to parking and taking advantage of the stream zone ambiance really won the day," she said.
While portions of the garden will be relocated to make way for the house, improvements to its irrigation system and the Best Management Practices exhibit are planned.
"We look at it as nothing but a benefit," said Ben Solomon, who served as CEO of the college for 25 years between 1970-2005, at last week's meeting.
SHOWCASING THE COLLEGE
The college currently leases a house for the president on Wilderness Court, about a mile away from campus.
"The (on-campus) president's residence is going to be built for the purpose of being able to do the very kinds of things we want to be able to do," Gillette said. "It's not only going to be a home for the president and his or her family, but it's going to be built for the purpose of being able to host large groups of people and to showcase the college."
The one-floor, 3,000-square-foot structure will host events for students, faculty and staff, and existing and potential donors, he said.
"I believe fundraising is crucial to our success, and for us to be able to have events at the president's home on our campus is a major, major strategic play for the financial success of the college," Gillette said.
A donation made by an anonymous individual is covering a "large majority" of the $1.6 million project cost, including garden improvements, Gillette said.
Given the private nature of the college, Severance said she is not at liberty to disclose the exact amount of the donation.
"The whole thing with fundraising is you've got a set of broad needs, and you may or may not have them prioritized," Gillette explained. "Then you spend all kinds of time talking to donors, seeing what they want and you just hope you've got some overlap. … If you have a match, you say, 'hallelujah,' and go forward."
The SNC Board of Trustees's executive committee approved the president's house donation and location at its Sept. 12 meeting.
"I think a point that's being overlooked by a lot of people … is with having the president on campus, he'll have better idea of students' needs if he's here … and he's (going to) see more of the day-to-day operations of the students versus just going to his home," said SNC student Scout Sorcic. "… I think if anything, it will strengthen the relationship between the president and students in ways that a lot of people are overlooking."
The president's house is expected to break ground in mid-May 2015 and be ready for occupancy in late spring, early summer of 2016.
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