Coming soon: South Shore Estates 2, the controversy continues
This month is the one-year anniversary of sorts for a certain proposed South Shore development.
But no one is celebrating.
South Shore Estates, a 26-unit condominium project planned in Douglas County, first went before the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in March 1999. A year later the project still is in limbo. It’s been killed by the bistate authority’s governing board; however, a revised proposal should be back before the agency sometime this year.
“It’s been very frustrating, because I have done everything an applicant can do along the way to see that any problems have been properly addressed,” said Incline Village resident James Borelli, the developer trying to build the condominiums on 18 acres near Kahle Park, Lake Village and the Old Nugget Building that houses Stateline’s Burger King. “I’ve gone to the governing board on several occasions, with staff recommending approval of my project, with them saying they’ve spent a tremendous amount of time reviewing the project and that was their professional opinion.
“It’s just so frustrating to go before the board and see that ignored.”
Don Miner, Douglas County’s representative on the TRPA governing board, said he has never seen a project kicked around like this one has been.
“Never. There’s always been some direction given to a project proponent,” said Miner, also the vice chairman of the board, who has repeatedly voted in support of the project. “There’s always been a reason why governing board members can’t support staff’s recommendation. Those reasons are absent this time – other than a few board members having a bad hair day and voting against it without defining why they won’t support it. They just don’t want the project.”
Jerome Waldie, the California Senate Rules Committee’s appointee to TRPA’s board, agrees that he’s never seen a project like this one before. However, his feelings are the opposite of Miner’s; he has repeatedly voted against it.
“It seems to me, at some point, a stake in the heart should cancel it,” Waldie said. “We’ve put a lot of stakes in it, but we can’t find the heart.”
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The governing board’s miserable affair with the project started on March 24, 1999, but the meeting where the project first came to light was almost a non-event. It offered no foreshadowing of what was to come at later meetings.
A last-minute discovery by the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California of some historical artifacts prompted the project proposal to be postponed.
However, when South Shore Estates came back before the board in August, the hullabaloo began. And it was at that nearly four-hour hearing that TRPA’s decision makers got a taste of what issues were involved.
The California Attorney General’s Office opposed the proposal, saying that to approve it violated TRPA’s own rules. Subdivisions such as this one are not allowed, officials claimed, because they are a type of development known to short circuit Mother Nature’s process of filtering sediment out of stormwater, thus hurting the endangered clarity of Lake Tahoe.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe also opposed the project on those grounds. And, the League said, a comprehensive environmental impact statement needed to be completed on a project with so many issues surrounding it.
A newly formed group called Friends of Burke Creek decried the project, too. Members said there would be traffic impacts to the intersection and the development would hurt Burke Creek, which runs through the property. They argued Borelli’s planned mitigation wouldn’t offset the damage the buildings, roads and driveways would cause.
And, like the League, the coalition of residents also urged the board that an EIS, TRPA’s most comprehensive type of environmental documentation, was needed.
TRPA staffers were recommending the agency require an EIS. Borelli wanted to move forward without that. Restoration of Burke Creek was planned, the traffic impacts would be mitigated and the issues with the Washoe Tribe had been dealt with. After Burke Creek was restored, the property’s five acres containing the stream would be turned over to the tribe, which currently owns no land inside the Tahoe Basin, despite the region being the group’s ancestral homeland.
TRPA’s board postponed its decision.
Then September’s meeting arrived, and the issues surrounding Burke Creek came to a head. TRPA staff recommended approval, but the testimony from the League, the Attorney General’s Office, water quality experts, the Washoe Tribe and the developer’s attorney, who assured the board that any potential impacts would be taken care of with more than $1 million worth of mitigation, led to a lengthy debate. After a six-hour hearing, TRPA’s 14 voting members split on whether they could agree with the staff’s environmental findings. Without making that vote, the agency couldn’t vote on the project.
South Shore Estates was dead – or so many believed.
However, the denouement of the South Shore Estates story was long and lingering, and it seems to be transforming into a highly charged sequel.
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Miner in October asked for the project to be reconsidered. The board, again by a split vote, denied the request.
In January of this year, Borelli asked the board if it was appropriate for him to complete an environmental assessment for the project, a step down from – and less expensive and time consuming than – an EIS. By a split vote that failed. There was a motion to require the EIS talked about months before. Again that failed, again by a split vote.
Officials figuratively scratched their heads and debated whether the project was still alive.
It wasn’t, they later decided. South Shore Estates was officially dead in February.
What that left for Borelli to do was re-apply, which TRPA allows as long as a project is significantly altered from the original plan.
Borelli said the proposal he has just started working on is still 26 units, but those will be contained inside five buildings in a more traditional condominium style and not so much like a subdivision.
That should alleviate some of the concerns, Borelli hopes, namely those of the attorney general’s office.
He said he has no estimate of when the project could go back before TRPA’s board.
“This property is designated for this type of use,” Borelli said. “This is a multi-family site. There is a good reason it was designated multi-family. I’ve never been asking to allocate a use in an area where TRPA has other ideas for the property.”
In fact, 54 multi-family units are allowed to go there, according to TRPA. And Borelli said reducing that number substantially in his proposal is only one of the things he has done to appease concerns.
The Burke Creek restoration will cost $400,000. Borelli plans to pay a $62,000 traffic mitigation fee. About $126,000 worth of work is planned for a bank of Burke Creek that was damaged in the 1997 flood. That work is on Kahle Park property but will be paid for with Borelli’s water quality mitigation money. For nearby residents of Lake Village and children going from Kingsbury Middle School to Kahle Park, Borelli said he plans $35,000 worth of work to build two public access easements across the property.
“What I’ve offered, so much of it goes beyond TRPA’s code,” he said. “It’s a willingness on my part to address the concerns of the opponents.”
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Jerry Wells, TRPA’s acting executive director, said it is uncommon for a proposed project to run into so many problems during the TRPA-approval process. However, he said it’s happened before.
“This project did have a lot of issues, and we had a lot of people interested in this piece of property,” Wells said. “There was the two-step subdivision process; some folks had concerns about traffic impacts. They ran into cultural issues.”
“There was just a whole myriad of issues,” he added.
TRPA’s governing board discussed South Shore Estates briefly at a meeting Wednesday, with a status report from Wells. However, there was no action.
Dan Siegel, deputy attorney general for California, said it is too early to tell whether what Borelli is planning now will alleviate his agency’s concerns.
“I don’t know if it will take care of our concerns,” Siegel said. “I’ve only heard a very general description of what’s being planned. It’s moving in the right direction, but whether it will take care of the 208 (water quality) plan problem, I can’t tell you.”
Dave Roberts, assistant executive director of the League, said clustering the units into only a few buildings might also alleviate his group’s concerns about the subdivision breaking TRPA’s own rules. However, the League’s insistence that an EIS is needed will not change.
“We’re taking the stance that an adequate level of environmental documentation needs to be completed,” Roberts said. “I don’t think that feeling is going to change for any sizable project on that property.”
Michael Donahoe, a resident of Lake Village and a founding member of the Friends of Burke Creek, said he would still like a comprehensive EIS completed. If a project is to go on that property, he hopes it will be considerably smaller than what was previously planned and located away from Burke Creek.
“If he goes ahead and does an EIS and shows there is not an impact, then legally I don’t think we have any recourse,” Donahoe said. “I think he would get the green light from TRPA.”
Donahoe added that he expected an EIS to reveal there would be a detrimental effect to the environment, and therefore that “green light” wouldn’t be possible.
The governing board’s Waldie said he doesn’t plan to support the project when it is resurrected.
“There’s just all kinds of problems with that project that will not be solved by putting 25 units in there,” Waldie said. “You can call a rose by any other name; it’s still a rose. You can call this by any other name; it’s still a subdivision.”
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