Appeals court overrules Sierra Colina decision
October 11, 2012
A federal appeals court sided with the League to Save Lake Tahoe Thursday in the environmental group’s challenge to a proposed development near Stateline.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision vacates a 2011 judgment allowing the Sierra Colina Village project to go ahead. The League appealed the lower court’s ruling in September 2011.
The court battle centered around whether a U-shaped road through the proposed 18-acre, 50-unit residential development off Lake Village Drive primarily serves the public. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency found the road would see heavy use by the public as a bike path and granted developers additional land coverage for the project because of the determination. The League argued the road would primarily serve residents of Sierra Colina and expressed concerns the TRPA’s finding would set a dangerous precedent for future development.
Appeals judges were skeptical of the public determination during oral arguments last month and Tuesday’s decision found the evidence presented by the TRPA and project proponents was not enough to find the road, known as LPF 3, would primarily be used by the public.
“While the record shows that LPF 3 will provide a valuable link in Douglas County’s trail network, it does not establish that the access road will primarily serve members of the public utilizing that trail network,” according to the decision.
The TRPA issued five permits for the project, in addition to certifying its environmental document, TRPA spokeswoman Kristi Boosman said Thursday afternoon. The decision will send the case back to U.S. District Court and eventually back to the TRPA, Boosman said.
The agency will then seek to add evidence to the record to show the road primarily serves the public, Boosman said. The TRPA is expected to take up the issue early next year.
The League lauded the court’s decision in a Thursday statement, while the developers of the project, Sierra Colina, LLC, called the case “one in a series of hostile and obstructionist tactics by the League in recent years.”
“We are gratified that the court has endorsed existing protections on road building and removed the possibility of a precedent-setting relaxation of those protections,” said Darcie Goodman-Collins, the League’s executive director, in the statement. “We look forward to evolving a stronger working relationship with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and with area developers so that, in the future, we may address concerns and resolve differences during the permitting phase.”
Thursday’s decision shattered a collaborative process at the expense of the general public, according to a Wednesday statement from Sierra Colina LLC.
“The Court’s opinion is an abuse of discretion of the highest order, and a complete disregard of the Court’s authority and obligations under applicable law,” said Steve Kenninger, co-owner of Sierra Colina LLC.
– Editor’s note: This story was updated from a previous version at 7:04 p.m.