Opinion: Paving paradise, one ridgeline at a time | SierraSun.com

Opinion: Paving paradise, one ridgeline at a time

Derrick Aaron
Special to the Bonanza

The ridgelines of the Tahoe Basin are one of the most outstandingly beautiful features of our area and a basis for its popularity and its economy.

Picture them as they are now — a rugged tree line against a starry night sky, a place to hike and see a hawk or other magnificent bird soaring majestically through the air, allowing the thermal winds to carry it to its next perch on a crag of rocks or tall tree.

They also offer recreational opportunities such as bicycling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Now picture what they could become if developed: manmade rooflines and brightly lit roads and parking lots that may be visible almost everywhere, with the stars dimmed due to light pollution; wildlife displaced, possibly resulting in an increase in human encounters as their natural habitat becomes “less wild.”

The ridgelines are irreplaceable — once they’re gone, they’re gone. The loss of scenic views could lead to a loss of tourism and related income since much of the basin’s tourism is dependent on visitors’ and residents’ appreciation of its scenic beauty and distinct mountain character.

Unfortunately, the latter scenario could be a reality soon. It could be a reality because not everyone who lives and works in the Tahoe Basin shares the same vision for how the Tahoe ridgelines should be protected and appreciated. And not everyone is concerned about losing ridgeline view sheds that make Lake Tahoe the special place people want to live in and visit.

East West Partners has presented a plan called the Martis Valley West Area Plan to Placer County to develop 112 homes and commercial amenities inside the Tahoe Basin along Route 73 (aka known as Fibreboard Freeway).

This section of 73 connects to Highway 267 at Brockway Summit. The proposed privately gated housing development of luxury homes and condos would devastate 112 acres of conservation forest lands located on the north shore basin ridgeline.

This forestland is privately owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, a logging company. It is currently zoned for forest and conservation, but will be changed to residential/multi-family zoning if approved by Placer County and the TRPA.

Along with the Martis Valley West Area Plan development project, there will be 6.6 acres zoned commercial and hundreds of additional homes (up to 648) on 660 acres on the Northstar side of the same ridgeline as an amendment to the Martis Valley Community Plan.

These 660 acres fall outside of the Tahoe Basin area, but the building heights allowed on the Northstar side may also impact the Tahoe Basin ridgeline view shed. The area plan states that building heights of 115 feet are allowed.

Some enforceable standards need to be established to protect the ridgelines. Prior to the TRPA’s Regional Plan Update, this kind of development on our ridgelines was inconceivable; there wasn’t a need to specify additional protections for undeveloped ridgelines because no land use or zoning would allow them to be developed.

In Colorado, Pitkin County (Aspen) prohibits any building on ridgelines for both aesthetic and environmental reasons, Eagle County doesn’t allow building on ridgelines if the home can be seen from Interstate 70 and Summit County is considering some ridgeline restrictions as well.

So, if regulations banning ridgeline development exist in other mountain communities and resort areas, why doesn’t Lake Tahoe recognize the need and benefits from the same protections?

The ridgelines are irreplaceable — once they’re gone, they’re gone. The loss of scenic views could lead to a loss of tourism and related income since much of the basin’s tourism is dependent on visitors’ and residents’ appreciation of its scenic beauty and distinct mountain character.

Please attend Placer County and TRPA planning meetings and express your concerns, talk to your friends and neighbors, and contact your elected representatives. And visit savetahoeforests.com for more information.

Derrek Aaron is a six-year, full-time resident of Incline Village.