Tahoe’s 20-year plan gives incentives for right projects
North Tahoe communities are sitting at a crossroads.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Community Enhancement Program has the potential to turn the vision of basin residents into a reality.
But critics say the demonstration program instead could steer development down a path not in sync with community wishes.
“There could be some very good things coming out of this program, if it’s done right,” said Paul Vatistas, a member of the North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance’s board of directors. “But if it’s not done right, [the Community Enhancement Program] could leave a very bad precedent for the next 20 years.”
Part of the bistate Tahoe agency’s Pathways program to update a 20-year regional plan, the Community Enhancement Program will inform decisionmakers how to amend ordinances and codes to better achieve the type of social, environmental and economic progress communities and governing agencies want to see.
Under the Enhancement Program, planners have asked developers to submit their most innovative concepts that go beyond the usual environmental requirements, as well as build off regional vision summaries, documents that reflect the ideas, hopes and suggestions of hundreds of community participants.
“The Community Enhancement projects will reflect the aspirations of the community, while accelerating the attainment of our environmental goals,” said Community Liaison Jeff Cowen of the bi-state planning agency.
And in return, the program will provide incentives to developers by amending strategic portions of the building code to facilitate selected projects, Cowen said. Height, density, parking requirements and commercial floor space could all be modified to accommodate demonstration projects.
“These elements have been identified in case studies as being the main regulations that limit mixed-use developments,” Cowen said.
Placer County, a partner in the Pathways planning process, stands to gain from the pilot program because it encourages significant reinvestment and redevelopment, said Jennifer Merchant, Tahoe’s representative for the county’s executive office.
The program is a catalyst for hundreds of thousands of private dollars to be invested into redevelopment in Kings Beach and Tahoe City, said Placer’s Deputy Director of Redevelopment Rae James.
A handful of major developers in Placer County plan to apply to the demonstration program, James said. The Redevelopment Agency is assisting those developers submit viable applications.
“When we saw that the TRPA was willing to open up a door, then we just walked through it,” James said. “We just knew we wanted to grab that opportunity when we saw it.”
Kings Beach was identified by area residents as the community with the greatest opportunity on the North Shore for reinvestment, according the Placer County Vision Summary.
“This is really how we see it, a bottom-up process,” Merchant said. The community came up with ideas, and developers are presenting concepts and responding to that vision, she said.
But first looks at proposed developments have made some North Tahoe citizens wary of the long-term effects the project could have.
“I believe there is potential to meet what the communities want,” Vatistas said. “But we’ve not seen it yet with any of the applicants … [We need] to keep the agencies honest to the vision that the public requested.”
People are very adamant that development match the scale and character of North Tahoe communities, Vatistas said. Two- and three-story buildings fit that description, but developers are proposing four-story structures, pushing the envelope on community scale.
“If these developments end up looking like the Marriott in South Shore ” that’s really not what people want,” said Vatistas of the grass-roots Alliance. “We are concerned that the scale and character of the communities will get sacrificed.”
Vatistas is pushing for a public meeting with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency at the end of September to promote more dialogue, but officials have not yet committed to a date.
A public forum is set for early November, after applications are submitted on Oct. 31.
“It’s all happening pretty quickly and public input comes in pretty late in the day,” Vatistas said. “The TRPA, the county and the community just [need] to hear from each other [about] what’s going on.”
Planning Working Groups, comprised of North Tahoe community leaders, are representing the public at stakeholder meetings during the current pre-application period, Cowen said.
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