My Turn: There is a clear limit to development | SierraSun.com

My Turn: There is a clear limit to development

David Landry
Special to the Sun

LAKE TAHOE and#8212; As a TRPA planner, I have had the opportunity to work with a highly diverse list of Tahoe property owners. I have helped people rebuild decks, helped new businesses to open and I recently completed a four-year long environmental analysis of the Boulder Bay project, during which the minute details of every potential impact were scoured by myself, technical experts and hundreds of interested citizens.

In speaking with people interested in Boulder Bay and other projects, I explain that TRPA’s role in the permit process is to help make projects better and to bring about more environmental benefits. Property owners generally don’t waste their resources proposing what is clearly not allowed, so we never see applications for things like drag racing strips or sky scrapers. It would appear from Tim Delaney’s recent column and#8212; and#8220;Should there be a limit to development?and#8221; and#8212; there is some confusion in the public arena on this topic.

Environmental Threshold Carrying Capacities for the Lake Tahoe Region were set by the TRPA Governing Board in the 1980s and have provided a clear limit to development ever since. The thresholds set long-term goals in environmental categories, and planners like me have to ensure that no threshold will be degraded by any single project. So Boulder Bay had to meet those standards as well as demonstrating that impacts to other areas including water consumption would not happen. Water consumption at Boulder Bay was thoroughly reviewed and approved by the water purveyors and showed that it met the requirements of the Truckee River Operating Agreement. Law in both states prohibits water rights from being over-allocated.

But looking at an individual project is only part of what TRPA planners do. The Regional Plan looks more broadly at the cumulative effects of what is called development potential. When the thresholds were adopted in the 1980s, all private parcels at Lake Tahoe were accounted for and a set amount of development allocations for things like commercial floor area and hotel rooms were established. Since environmental improvements like erosion control projects, bike trails and stream restoration have moved in step, a limited amount of allowable change to the built environment in the basin has continued. Thanks to the work of private property owners and local jurisdictions to keep restoration projects coming, the Tahoe Region is still under the development cap set more than 20 years ago. In fact, more than 300,000 square feet of commercial space authorized for development in 1987 never materialized, and every new accommodation to be created by the Boulder Bay project is within the caps set more than two decades ago.

TRPA’s last threshold evaluation showed that 50 percent of threshold goals were at or near attainment, and the majority of standards are trending in a positive direction. Lake Tahoe’s ecological thresholds already exist and are part of an environmental planning system that resource managers from around the world travel to Lake Tahoe to learn about. I would encourage all who are interested to take a look at TRPA’s thresholds and the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program (EIP).

The Threshold Evaluation Report is completed every five years and provides a scientific check-in on the progress of TRPA’s programs so we can refine them and continue moving forward. The 2011 Report is underway as is a Regional Plan Update and TRPA is leading Lake Tahoe communities to further environmental improvements, this time with a focus on encouraging environmental redevelopment of town centers where, like Crystal Bay, the greatest opportunities exist.

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and#8212; David Landry is a senior planner for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and is accredited by the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Leadership in Energy Efficient Design.