Decision-making board can’t decide |

Decision-making board can’t decide

You’ve heard the expression “beating a dead horse.”

The Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spent two hours Wednesday trying to decide whether to keep beating the horse or to help it onto its feet.

Everyone disagreed on whether the horse was dead.

The metaphorical “horse” in this scenario is a controversial Douglas County project denied – or maybe not technically denied – several months ago.

After action taken Wednesday, however, the South Shore Estates project proposed near Burke Creek, Lake Village and Stateline’s Burger King is a dead issue to TRPA’s decision-making board until at least September – maybe.

“I think we’ve sent a ridiculous message to the public that we don’t know how to do business,” said Larry Sevison, chairman of TRPA’s governing board. “We spend hours and hours trying to tell the public how to save the lake, and we turn right around and tell them we don’t know how to approve a project.”

The project, denied in September 1999, is one TRPA staff had supported but others, including the League to Save Lake Tahoe and California Attorney General’s Office, had said violated the agency’s own regulations. After six hours of discussions at that meeting, the agency’s governing board could not agree with the findings its staff had made regarding the project, which would have created a 26-unit, multi-family condominium development near South Shore’s Burke Creek. Without the findings, at that time the project could not move forward; however, the project was not denied outright. If it had been, TRPA’s board couldn’t consider the project again for another year, September 2000.

However, the applicant came before the board this week asking for permission to do an environmental assessment for the proposed project. And that led to lengthy discussions on whether the project was, in fact, dead.

TRPA considers three levels of environmental review, each more comprehensive than the former: an initial environmental checklist, environmental assessment and environmental impact statement. The checklist had been prepared last year when the project couldn’t move forward. Wednesday TRPA’s decision-making board denied both of the more stringent environmental reviews.

South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Tom Davis, representing the city on TRPA’s board, said that by denying both, the board effectively denied the applicant the ability to prove his project isn’t detrimental to Tahoe’s environment.

“I don’t think that’s fair, whether I agree with the project or not,” said Davis, who voted to allow the environmental documents to happen.

The developer first proposed the project in 1997 as a 44-unit development but had changed his plans to 26. The property contains a portion of Burke Creek, which the developer planned to help rehabilitate.

A group of Tahoe residents opposed to the project formed the Friends of Burke Creek, however, and argued that the restoration wouldn’t be adequate.

The League and California Attorney General’s Office also have fought the project, saying that approving subdivisions such as South Shore Estates violated TRPA’s own water quality plan.

Larry Hoffman, attorney for the developer, has long argued that the project’s environmental impacts have been mitigated. He said Wednesday that granting the developer an opportunity to do an environmental assessment was the right way to gauge if that was correct.

“That’s why you call it an environmental assessment,” he told the board. “You assess the potential the project will have for an environmental impact.”

Eleven of the board’s 14 voting members were present at the meeting, and the proposals needed eight affirmative votes to be approved. Both received six.

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