Affordable housing goal in Tahoe can’t be attained
A study conducted in 1996 revealed that Douglas County’s fair share of affordable housing at Lake Tahoe was deficient by about 1,400 residential units.
That 1,400-unit goal can never be reached – not with existing regulations.
In fact, a lot will have to happen and ordinances will have to be amended – likely with significant controversy surrounding the changes – in order to ever achieve close to half of the county’s fair share.
That situation is one of the primary reasons the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has conducted an inventory of all the multi-family residential development potential in the basin portion of Douglas County and is proposing to make some changes that could affect each jurisdiction in the basin. Another reason is that room for multi-family development – not necessarily for affordable housing – is becoming scarce.
“The bottom line is there isn’t much left in Douglas County. Incline Village is the same way,” said Gabby Barrett, principal planner for TRPA. “It’s not a matter any more of finding a cheap vacant parcel to develop on. You’re out.”
Currently TRPA, Tahoe’s bistate regulatory authority, has four pending applications to re-zone land for multi-residential development in the county, proposals that facilitated this inventory.
“We said, ‘Before we try to act on any of these applications, let’s step back and take a closer look at this,'” Barrett said.
What they found with that closer look is that only 13 parcels exist in the Douglas portion of the basin where multi-family residences could conceivably be built. And many of those parcels couldn’t be used under existing rules. Best-case scenario, Barrett said, is that 600 affordable housing units could be built.
“The bottom line is we’re not coming near the 1,400, and with the likelihood of success on the code changes, we’ll be far short of 600,” he said.
Lew Feldman, who represents a developer trying to find a place to build affordable housing in the county, said the 600 number is unrealistic.
For example, TRPA’s board recently turned down a 26-unit condominium complex near Kahle Park and the Old Nugget Building. The property owner there is asking more than a million dollars for the land, and there was significant opposition to it. Those kinds of obstacles become even more burdensome when pursuing affordable housing, Feldman said, and that is one of the parcels considered in the 13.
Some of the other parcels are owned by the Park Cattle Co., Feldman said, which is sure not to sell them.
“I think it’s certainly an appropriate first step to inventory what sites may be available,” he said. “But the process needs to consider some things outside of a vacuum. I’m optimistic TRPA staff will apply some reality-based criteria to their analysis as opposed to just looking at assessor’s parcel maps and community plan maps.”
TRPA has a few proposals soon to go before its board that could affect the situation. But many of the changes will probably never gain approval, Barrett admits.
The proposals include:
n For some of the parcels available, TRPA plans to put the public on notice that these parcels are favored for affordable housing, or at least multi-family residences. If developers plan other types of projects, taking away from the potential affordable housing sites will become another hurdle developers will have to overcome.
n One of the parcels that may be a possibility currently belongs to the state of Nevada. TRPA is encouraging a land swap that could give developers that parcel and Nevada another one somewhere else.
Opposition to that proposal is likely.
“This argument about taking land that’s out of circulation and putting it back into circulation is a big concern to us,” said Joyce Nolan, a Round Hill resident.
n One option is extending what TRPA calls its urban boundary for some areas. That could potentially allow multi-family residences to be built in areas where they can’t be now. Currently, TRPA only allows that to happen if three criteria are met: a mistake was made when establishing the boundary, there is a safety issue if it is not extended or the developer mitigates the project’s impact to such a degree that one of the agency’s thresholds improves – a significant undertaking.
What TRPA staff now is proposing is to add a fourth criterion: that if the boundary is extended, it be reduced in an equal amount somewhere else.
Barrett said the details of that proposal still need to be worked out, but opposition is likely. Historically, the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the California Attorney General’s Office have adamantly opposed urban boundary changes.
TRPA’s advisory planning commission will discuss the proposals this week, and the agency’s governing board is scheduled to address the issue later this month.
What: TRPA planning commission meeting
When: Oct. 13, 9:30 a.m.
Where: North Tahoe Conference Center, 8318 North Lake Tahoe Blvd., Kings Beach
What: TRPA Governing Board meeting
When: Oct. 27, 9:30 a.m.
Where: Tahoe Seasons Resort, Saddle at Keller roads
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