Next phase of ‘Community Enhancement’ starts | SierraSun.com

Next phase of ‘Community Enhancement’ starts

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Not one of the nine developers involved in the Community Enhancement Program has submitted their formal application to the Tahoe Basin’s government agencies yet.

But they already have an enormous amount of critical feedback to digest.

“I think we learned an awful lot by doing this advance work,” said Jennifer Merchant, of the Placer County executive office. “And I think we’re going to end up with better projects because of it.”

Whereas developers traditionally start the review and approval process when they submit a formal application, the Community Enhancement Program ventured off the beaten path and asked for the developer’s early concepts ahead of time.

After nearly four months of evaluating each submitted concept, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board, at their meeting last week, gave the program’s nine “pre-applicants” the green light to start filing the official paperwork that starts the standard environmental review process.

“These projects appear to be good enough to move onto the next level,” said Dennis Oliver, spokesman for the agency.

A set amount of commercial floor area, tourist accommodation units and multi-residential units will be waiting for each projects’ final approval.

But the developers, across the board, need to significantly boost the merit of their projects to earn those valuable allocations, according to TRPA documentation.

TRPA staff compiled a graph that identifies specific issues that will inevitably need to be addressed before a final project will be approved.

“If you submit this project [as is], this is what you can expect are some of the issues you’ll have to deal with,” Oliver said. “The feedback [the developers] got is global feedback. It’s beyond what you can buy.”

Height, density and land coverage stood out among the criticisms nearly every proposal faced. If developers want to build up, they must reduce land coverage and additional stories must be stepped back.

Kings Beach developer B.B., LLC’s proposed 66-foot building must be substantially decreased in height in order to move forward, agency documentation states.

“We told the TRPA we would be more than happy to work with them on those issues,” said Developer Whitney Bibbens of B.B., LLC, when asked about the feedback they received.

On the other end of the spectrum, the proposed height for the Pastore Ryan development, two- or three-stories within the buildings’ original footprint, “appears appropriate for this setting and location.”

Each building in every project in the program must meet the minimum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification “to ensure that green building methodology will be completed,” agency documentation states.

The TRPA is requiring that Ferrari Family Resorts and King Beach Resorts, LLC coordinate with each other so their neighboring projects jointly consider lake access, view corridors, bike trail implementation, utility services, parking and pedestrian amenities, among other items.

The governing board’s February resolution gives the developers a year to show “substantial progress toward project approval,” Oliver said.

“We’re looking for them to do more than just fill out an application,” he said.

Many developers said they’re hoping to submit an application soon, though they couldn’t give a specific timeline.

“We have a lot of work to do to file an application,” said Dave Ferrari of the Ferrari Family Resorts. The Ferrari proposal is currently pursuing a development partner for their proposed development, and they need to take another look at their proposed exterior architecture.

Leah Kaufman, the consultant for Kings Beach Resorts, LLC, said they’re focused on connecting with the Ferrari’s to talk about coordinating the two neighboring projects. Since timing may be an issue, Kaufman said she’s looking to draft alternatives outlining how to integrate the two projects in the environmental document.

The Community Enhancement Program, in asking for the early concept review, broke new ground in the Tahoe Basin’s history of development procedures.

In evaluating the developers’ ideas before they submitted a formal application, the community, agency and development staff were able to submit early input that will hopefully influence the projects before they are too far down the line.

“Having community input early will definitely help shape the projects,” said Jennifer Merchant of the Placer County executive office. “Now they’ll go back to the drawing board and put together more concrete proposals.”

Dennis Oliver, spokesman for the TRPA, said the agency feels the initial phase of the program “went very well.”

“It allowed the public to have an unprecedented amount of input on the front end,” he said.

And it gave the developers a better understanding of what they need bring forward.

Some of the developers, however, have somewhat mixed feelings over the project’s early phase.

Property owner Dave Ferrari said he felt the process was “somewhat disorganized.”

“But you know it had never been done before, so some of it is definitely understandable,” he said.

Despite inefficiencies, the concept review was helpful, Ferrari said, because it will flush out some of the pending issues.

“It remains to be seen whether the CEP works the way it’s designed,” he said. “I think that’s all going to get fleshed out as plans get submitted, and get approved or not approved.”

Developer Whitney Bibbens said B.B., LLC is just “going with the flow,” like many other developers are.

“I think we, like all the developers and the TRPA, are taking it one step at a time,” he said.

Consultant Leah Kaufman of Kings Beach Resorts, LLC said she felt the program needed specific parameters to guide the developers.

“Firmer parameters for the project to be able to define ultimately what is going to be allowed,” she said. “Because there weren’t defined parameters, I would say that it was at times difficult to come up with ideas.”