SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - A federal court judge's ruling this week will allow for a "new chapter Lake Tahoe's environmental sustainability," according to supporters of a development that will now be able to move forward under the decision.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones ruled against the League to Save Lake Tahoe in its legal challenge to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's approval of the Sierra Colina Village project.
The TRPA's Governing Board approved the 18-acre, 50-unit subdivision of single and multifamily homes off Lake Village Drive in June 2009.
Sierra Colina is designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, includes storm water treatment facilities for adjacent property and is "a leading example of sustainable development at Lake Tahoe," according to a statement from the TRPA announcing Jones' decision.
The League challenged the TRPA's environmental review of Sierra Colina in August 2009, centering its argument around a U-shaped road that would connect the project to Lake Village Drive on both ends.
The road is considered a "linear public facility" by the TRPA and was not part of the agency's land coverage calculations because of the designation. The League contended the road was not a public facility and added 16,500 feet of illegal coverage to the more than 108,000 square-foot project.
League spokeswoman Amanda Royal criticized TRPA's approval of Sierra Colina in a statement regarding Tuesday's decision and said the environmental group will "thoroughly review" the ruling.
"The Sierra Colina project represents the first time in nearly 40 years that the TRPA has approved a new residential subdivision without counting its road coverage," Royal said. "The League challenged this approval because excess coverage is a prime cause of Lake Tahoe's declining clarity."
"We may be able to provide further comment once we have thoroughly reviewed the decision," Royal said. "We will not make any decisions regarding an appeal until after that review is complete."
In Tuesday's decision, Jones found the TRPA acted appropriately in its approval of Sierra Colina and found the project is consistent with improving the quality of the Lake Tahoe region.
The road is the "key component" of connecting existing pedestrian and bike rails in the area and serves the needs of people other than residents of Sierra Colina, Jones said.
Supporters of the project lauded Tuesday's decision.
"Judge Robert C. Jones' decision heralds a significant victory by allowing responsible development which invigorates the economy and creates jobs to advance in the Lake Tahoe basin without frivolous lawsuits tying up environmentally beneficial projects," said Steve Kenninger, co-owner of Sierra Colina, LLC, in a statement. The company was also named in the suit.
The project serves as an example of the types projects that will be needed to improve Lake Tahoe's environment in the future, TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said in a separate statement.
"The Sierra Colina project went above and beyond the extremely rigorous environmental standards we have here at Lake Tahoe and exemplifies the public-private partnership model so critical to improving the clarity of the lake as well as the well-being our local community and economy," Marchetta said.
The courts ruling allows for the start of a new chapter in Tahoe's environmental sustainability, said TRPA Governing Board member and South Lake Tahoe city councilwoman Claire Fortier.
"The Federal Court's ruling in favor of Sierra Colina and the TRPA is a milestone for residents of the Lake Tahoe basin who believe the only way to keep Tahoe blue is to rebuild green," Fortier said in a statement. "Sierra Colina is a superb example of a private project that incorporated the greatest public gain."