Agency keeps pace with record workload |

Agency keeps pace with record workload

Amanda Fehd

Six months after identifying a goal to streamline the permit system, Tahoe’s planning agency says it has made progress despite receiving a record number of applications in 2005.

The agency kept pace with the incoming workload by approving almost 100 more applications than it received through the year.

The increased efficiency could spell good news for property owners who have found the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s permit system a source of frustration over the decades.

Exactly 1,820 people applied for a project in 2005, a 53 percent increase from 2000, when the agency received 1,186 applications. In contrast, 1,911 permits were processed last year.

Executive Director John Singlaub, now two years on the job, made it a goal to improve efficiency in their permit system, a common source of complaints about the agency which regulates development in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

More than a dozen calls to engineers, architects and TRPA-specialized consultants asking for comment on the permit system were not returned over a week’s time.

Two people the Tahoe Daily Tribune contacted did not want their names or opinions printed because of long-standing professional relationships with the agency.

But one engineer called back right away. Dave Shelton of Shelton and Associates in Tahoe City wrote a letter to Singlaub in November praising no fewer than 15 staff members for their friendliness and helpfulness.

Shelton told the Tribune he’s dealt with the agency for 27 years, and saw a noticeable change in the last year.

“Everybody seemed happy to be there,” Shelton said. “If there was an agenda to have a more user-friendly and pleasant interface with the public, they succeeded.”

Lyn Barnett, chief of environmental review at TRPA, will report on the permit system at this Wednesday’s Governing Board meeting at North Tahoe Conference Center.

The high numbers reflect a hot real estate market that has been returning well on remodels and additions, Barnett said. Tahoe is reaching build-out as private, undeveloped land disappears fast.

“I ask a lot of people why they are building here, and they say because of the environmental regulations,” he said. “They know they will be investing in a community that is stable, that will stay nice and improve over time.”

In 2005, Barnett hired four more staff members and expanded the over-the-counter system. Now, the simplest projects can be approved instantly. In the past, all applications went into the same stack.

“We’ve focused by the kinds of applications to expedite review time. And that is working,” said spokeswoman Julie Regan.

With the new system, requests like coverage transfers, land capability and site assessments are all approved in less than 60 days, Barnett said.

People may also work through the details of a complex project during an over-the-counter appointment.

The TRPA’s bi-state compact mandates that it make a final call on project applications within six months.

But agency staff have made a more stringent goal of approving most projects within 120 days. Despite the record numbers, there were fewer projects exceeding 120 days in December than in the last 1-1/2 years.

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