Public gets more time to voice opinions on Sandy Beach project | SierraSun.com

Public gets more time to voice opinions on Sandy Beach project

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

After a chorus of criticism met the end of the public comment period on a timeshare development in Tahoe Vista, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has extended the period by 15 days.

The extension pushes back the final day for the public to comment on Sandy Beach to March 10, 2008.

The prior 45-day comment period for the development’s draft environmental documents would have closed last week on Feb. 22.

“It’s a good thing,” said Joe Lanza, one of the Sandy Beach property owners. “To make sure that everybody has an opportunity to express their comments.”

The decision to extend the comment deadline came after several Tahoe Vista residents criticized the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for what they saw as inadequate environmental requirements.

“It’s a victory,” said Tahoe Vista Resident Ellie Waller, who pushed the agency for the extension over a series of e-mails. “I’m really excited that it happened.”

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Placer County mandated Sandy Beach prepare an Environmental Impact Report in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Such a report requires a 45-day public comment period and at least two public hearings, which were held before both the county’s and the TRPA’s advisory bodies earlier this month.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, however, determined that the Sandy Beach development only warranted an environmental assessment, a step down from a full environmental impact study. An environmental assessment requires no more than a five-day public comment period.

“It should have been an environmental impact study,” Waller said. “Not just an environmental assessment because of the significant mitigations [the developers] are requesting.”

Waller said Sandy Beach’s proposed coverage, traffic volumes and building height deviations are most significant impacts in her eyes.

A checklist submitted by the developer at the start of the process determines whether a project warrants a staff review, an environmental assessment or a full-blown environmental impact study, said Jeff Cowen, the agency’s community liaison.

“An environmental assessment is a big step,” Cowen said. “It’s a pretty big process.”

The bistate agency’s governing board and Placer County’s Board of Supervisors will review the final joint environmental document and host public hearings once all of the public comments have been addressed. But this will not happen before May, at the earliest, said Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Executive Director John Singlaub in an e-mail.

Lanza said a long approval process is no surprise to him. Both the county and the planning agency compiled initial environmental checklists for the Sandy Beach proposal in 2002.

“It’s not exactly a speed process,” Lanza said. “It just takes a very long time. And that’s just the way it is here. It’s not a sprint.”