Tahoe Keys Marina vows legal action after City Council rejects land swap appeal

The Tahoe Keys Marina is located in South Lake Tahoe.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A land swap intended to move a corporate yard out of an environmentally sensitive area in Tahoe Keys could be heading to court.

That was the parting message from the Tahoe Keys Marina and Yacht Club after City Council upheld an earlier decision by the Planning Commission signing off on a land swap between Tahoe Keys Property Ownership Association (TKPOA) and California Tahoe Conservancy (CTC).

The swap would move the current TKPOA corporate yard from its current location in the Upper Truckee Marsh to a less impactful location closer to the marina.

The current site would be transferred to the CTC which would then restore the parcel. The marsh is an environmentally sensitive area and its restoration is deemed critical to reducing the amount of fine sediment flowing into the lake.

The South Lake Tahoe Planning Commission approved the proposal in August. At the meeting, some concerns were expressed about parking, but ultimately a representative from TKPOA said only three parking spaces would be lost.

The swap also received approval from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board later in August.

The same day TRPA approved the swap, the Tahoe Keys Marina appealed the planning commission’s decision, which sent the issue to City Council. In the appeal, the marina argued the swap would adversely impact its operations, and is contrary to the master plan.

Tahoe Keys Marina general manager Robert Spinnato told City Council on Tuesday that the land swap was supposed to involve three parties: the marina, the property owners’ association and the conservancy.

The goal was to move the corporate yard out of the marsh to a marina plot that would be less visible, while the marina would get the CTC plot currently poised to house the new corporate yard, according to Spinnato.

The marina would use that plot for additional parking. The project also would include construction of a public restroom.

Spinnato, who was visibly agitated at times, said the current situation stemmed, in part, from bias against the marina.

“Where this broke down is people don’t want to deal with the marina … we don’t get a fair shake,” he said to council.

Specifically he pointed to an incident in 2014 during which, the Tribune previously reported, the marina was reprimanded for illegally grading some land on conservancy-owned property near Venice Drive.

Spinnato alleged the CTC attorney at the time said the marina could use the land for extra parking to accommodate the South Tahoe Wooden Boat Classic, but then lied about it after the fact to the CTC board.

Michael Steeves, current CTC staff attorney, told council that CTC’s main goal is to get the current corporate yard out of the marsh. The three-way conversation broke down several years ago because the amount of land being transferred by the marina to TKPOA was deemed insufficient by TKPOA.

Marina ownership said TKPOA changed its request at the final hour, effectively scuttling the deal.

While several members of council seemed to be leaning toward delaying a decision to give the marina, conservancy and property owners’ association time to try to reach a compromise.

However, Kirk Wooldridge, general manager at TKPOA, said that the parties had tried negotiating for years to no avail. Further, TKPOA put the matter to a vote among all its owners on whether to proceed with the swap between TKPOA and CTC.

The members voted to proceed with the swap which, as Wooldridge explained, requires the TKPOA to move forward with the transaction. The issue would have to be put back before voters in order to consider another option.

After some debate a majority of council upheld the decision, finding no substantial reason to overrule the planning commission’s decision. Several members acknowledged that the three-way swap would make more sense aesthetically and it would help ease summertime parking problems at the marina. Councilor Jason Collin, a Tahoe Keys resident, voiced that point of view and urged the three parties to continue trying to work together.

The 4-1 vote by council — Councilor Tom Davis voted against upholding the decision — did not sit well with Spinnato.

“They just f***** us,” he said audibly from the audience as the vote was taking place.

As he was walking out, Spinnato echoed a claim made by his legal representation that the marina would be filing legal action.

“You guys just brought a lawsuit, good job,” he said. “Morons.”

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