My Turn: TRPA on hotseat for Homewood project
A crucial test of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s resolve to fulfill their commitments to preserve and enhance the environment and resources of the Lake Tahoe Basin, as well as to enforce the TRPA Code of Ordinances, will take place at the Nov. 15 TRPA board meeting.
At this meeting, the board will consider approval of a project in Homewood entitled the Villas at Harborside, for which the project applicant plans to circumvent a number of TRPA ordinances.
The application proposes the construction of nine single-family residences on three lots that would normally be limited to 25 percent coverage. However, if the units are constructed as planned, they will cover more than 36 percent of the land. A highly questionable 11-year-old agreement between the applicant and TRPA, in essence, permits the applicant carte blanche to do whatever he wishes, and provides the applicant’s justification for not abiding by present regulations. Clearly, if valid existing ordinances were being enforced today, this project would be significantly different.
Consequently, I strongly recommend that the TRPA Board of Governors disavow and invalidate the 1995 agreement and disapprove the project in its present form. The justification for such action is given in Item 11a of the agreement that states “TRPA reserves the full discretion vested in it by law to issue any permit subject to any conditions it deems proper…”
Among the questionable elements of the agreement is the assignment of a zoning classification of “single-family residence/commercial” to the entire “sub-division.” Although such a classification may have been appropriate in 1995 ” when there were commercial activities scattered over the entire tract ” the currently proposed site plan clearly segregates the single-family residences from the commercial activities. The applicant’s interpretation of the zoning is that 50 percent coverage is to be permitted on lots that are strictly single-family residential use, and that nine units on three lots is an acceptable concentration. Unfortunately, this interpretation has resulted in a proposed project that, for all intents and purposes, eliminates any view of the lake from the sidewalk and highway. This is probably the primary reason the Homewood Homeowner’s Association voted 56 to five against the project as proposed.
Another problem with the agreement is that the currently proposed project is not the project that was under consideration in 1995. A plan in the agreement clearly shows one single-family residence on each of the three lots that are currently proposed as sites for three residences.
Another deficiency of the agreement is an item that defines allowable public access to the beach to be “from the high water line lakeward.” This means there is no public access when the lake level is at the maximum. (Question: Is a beach still a beach when it is under water?) The concept of public access being limited to areas lakeward of the high water line is ludicrous and not in accordance with present-day regulations and concepts.
In addition, as part of the action by the board, the Mitigated Negative Declaration should not be approved, primarily because the “invalid” justification provided by the applicant for circumventing the environmental ordinances does not, in any manner, “mitigate” the proposed environmental degradations.
Clearly, this project in its present form is not compatible with the intent and purposes of TRPA’s compact. I cannot believe the framers of the TRPA compact (and perhaps those that wrote the 1995 agreement) ever envisioned that nine single-family residences would be constructed on three lots in such a way that a panoramic view of the lake and distant mountains would be limited solely to a few owners, to the exclusion of thousands of visitors and basin residents.
Although the TRPA staff has prepared a lengthy, complex and confusing document recommending approval of this project (with restrictions that do not resolve the basic deficiencies of the project), I strongly urge the TRPA Board of Governors to demonstrate that they have the “right stuff” by reaffirming the validity of the present TRPA Code of Ordinances and by disapproving this project.