Placer County Tahoe Plan code changes encourages redevelopment; community concerns expressed
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Placer County has introduced a large package of changes to the Tahoe Area Plan codes, many of which are meant to encourage development in city and town centers. However, several of the changes have raised red flags among some environmental organizations.
The Tahoe Basin Area Plan was first adopted in 2017 by Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and is consistent with the TRPA regional plan. The Area Plan encompasses 72.1 square miles and nearly 10,000 full-time residents, in Kings Beach/Stateline and Tahoe City, which accounts for more than 60% of the permanent population, as well as Carnelian Bay, Dollar Point, Sunnyside, Homewood, Tahoe Vista, and Tahoma.
The area plan provides the legal structure for review of land use proposals and applications and also identifies policy initiatives and capital improvements that would improve environmental conditions. The plan was meant to push redevelopment into town centers, which for Placer County would mean Tahoe City and Kings Beach.
“Since adoption, we have not seen any redevelopment in the town centers and that was a goal of the TRPA regional plan, a goal of our Tahoe Basin Area Plan and a goal of our board,” said Crystal Jacobsen, assistant director for Placer County Community Development – Tahoe Office.
Pushing redevelopment into town centers helps make environmental improvements and improve lake clarity, Jacobsen added.
While the county has spent a lot of money on making improvements to roads, bike lanes and sidewalks in Tahoe City and Kings Beach, the Board of Supervisors would like to see private developers begin to make improvements to the private properties in the town centers.
“So what we’ve heard over the years is that the area plan didn’t go far enough to encourage that type of development,” Jacobsen said.
While changes to the plans are meant to encourage redevelopment, TRPA, which must approve the changes is clear to state the changes won’t encourage overdevelopment.
“What people seem to be missing is that the Regional Plan integrates growth management, conservation programs, and the Regional Transportation Plan to mitigate and balance the impacts of existing and potential development. In other words, the Regional Plan is the mitigation strategy for cumulative impacts,” Jeff Cowen, Public Information Officer, TRPA.
“The regional plan includes conservation and capital improvement programs including the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, or EIP in addition to a growth management plan that set the region’s first caps on development and a code of ordinances for new and redevelopment projects. The growth management system created a finite number of new development rights and overall growth in the basin is modest,” Cowen continued. “New and potential development accounts for a small percentage of homes and businesses and, since a major update to the Regional Plan in 2012, no new hotel or tourist accommodation units have been created. Over the past 10 years, there has been an overall reduction in tourist accommodations units and commercial floor area in the region through conversions and banking.”
Placer County has proposed many changes to the plan, the red-lined implementation regulation document is nearly 350 pages. Many of the changes are meant to incentivize private developers and along with incentives, there are also workforce and affordable housing requirements attached to projects.
Some changes include allowing food trucks and mobile vendors, and making it easier for developers to change the use permit for smaller businesses. There are also changes that would ensure there aren’t new single-family projects in town centers, rather there would be requirements for the ground floor to be businesses with housing above and multi-family housing developments.
While housing projects are encouraged, there is still a limit on how much housing can be built.
“Residential development is capped at 51,000 residential development rights, of which approximately 47,000 exist today. New residential units are allocated annually to the local governments at a modest rate based on a performance review system,” Cowen said. “The agency distributes a maximum 130 residential allocations annually spread among five local governments. Since the 2012 Regional Plan Update, just 940 new residential units have been built and approximately 3,500 remain. At the current rate of distribution, the basin could reach full buildout by 2050.”
There are changes to building lengths for buildings built on the mountain side of highways, which would only be allowed if there is deed restricted housing included with the project and public art. On the lake side, building length could be increased if 50% of the building is deed restricted housing.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe was one of the organizations that has helped develop area plans around the basin and they have been tracking the proposed changes.
Senior Land Use Policy Analyst for League to Save Lake Tahoe Gavin Feiger said there are four main things they are excited to see in the plan changes.
“There is only a certain amount of development allowed in Placer County under TRPA regional plan and its growth regulations and we want to see that remaining redevelopment focused in town center and village centers … and the amendments do that,” Feiger said.
Feiger said they also like the deed restrictions for mixed-use development, as well as parking amendments, which would allow for shared parking agreements and decrease the parking spot minimums and encourage underground parking.
“We need to find places for people to live, not for cars,” Feiger said.
The League is also happy with frontage improvement requirements.
While agencies like the League and Mountain Area Preservation see the code changes as an overall positive, there are parts of the amendments that are concerning to them.
“Redevelopment is definitely needed to realize the environmental improvements, we don’t have the money or the mechanism to just build projects to improve the environment … if development doesn’t happen, you don’t get the good parts either,” Feiger said. “That said, we are concerned if that’s really going to happen.”
Feiger said Placer County hasn’t been clear on how the plan has worked so far.
“We’re not convinced that the impacts will be fully offset but if we could see more of the track record over the last four or five years, that could help convince us the environmental improvements will come along with the development,” Feiger said.
Mountain Area Preservation shares similar concerns about whether the development will be a net positive.
“In our minds, a lot of these projects aren’t going to pencil out without government subsidies…you’re streamlining the development process and you’re making it easier, is that going to result in the projects that we really need? I don’t know,” said Sophia Heidrich, advocacy director for MAP.
What MAP would like to see is a clearer plan on how the county will divvy up incentives to projects that the community really wants and needs, rather than doing it piecemeal down the line.
“There are some good policies around requiring a certain percentage of workforce or affordable housing, we’re concerned that the policies aren’t strong enough to really see it happen and that market rate and commercial projects are going to be built first,” Feiger said.
Another big concern for both the League and MAP is changes on height restrictions.
According to Jacobsen, there would be flexibility on building heights in town centers. Hotel developers can get an additional 5 feet of building height as long as the building is fronting the highway, has deed restricted housing, public art and complies with design standards.
“I wasn’t part of the original Tahoe Basin Area Plan creation process but as far as I’m aware, that 56 foot height limitation was a big compromise to begin with and it was a hard fought compromise,” Heidrich said.
Heidrich continued, saying that coming back to the drawing board with different height limitations feels bad for the community. In addition to scenic implications of this change, she is also concerned with health and safety because of sheating issues that are so common in the Basin.
“That, for me, just needs to come off the table, that’s a nonstarter,” Heidrich said.
Feiger also said the League feels that the current height restrictions are sufficient and are not a barrier to development.
Overall, MAP would like to see more nuance when it comes to most of the code changes, rather than having blanket changes.
In addition, the League would like to see better communication with the community, specifically, they’d like the county to provide visuals of what kind of projects could come to fruition.
The community still has a chance to weigh-in on the code changes. Placer County has scheduled an in person workshop from 4-6 p.m. March 9 at the North Tahoe Event Center. Attendees can engage with staff on building form such as height and length, achievable housing, density and TRPA development rights, and town center reinvestment.
To see the full red-lined document and to keep up-to-date with progress, visit https://www.placer.ca.gov/3342/Tahoe-Basin-Area-Plan.
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