Developer seeks Burke project reversal
The governing board of Lake Tahoe’s bistate regulatory agency Wednesday will be asked to appeal the decision of its staff to require a comprehensive environmental study for a 26-unit multi-family development proposed in Douglas County.
Proponents of the project – which include the developer who wants to build there and the Douglas County Commission – say there is no need for an Environmental Impact Statement. Opponents – which include the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the California Attorney General’s Office, a recently formed coalition called Friends of Burke Creek and the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California – say it is entirely appropriate.
The project, South Shore Estates, involves building 26 detached, two-story, multi-family residences in an area near Kahle Park, Lake Village and the Old Nugget Building that houses Stateline’s Burger King. Part of the project would include restoring a portion of Burke Creek, a stream that flows through the area, and selling that 5-acre portion of land to the U.S. Forest Service.
If the appeal is granted, the board potentially could approve the project Wednesday.
The Kingsbury Community Plan allows for that type of development, and, in fact, would allow the developer to build more than 50 units there.
James Borelli, the developer, first proposed the project in late 1997 as a 44-unit development, but Borelli has since changed the plans to 26 to help appease concerns of those fighting the project.
The Friends of Burke Creek – a loose coalition of about 40 people – has concerns about the creek’s health, disturbing wildlife habitat in the area, the transportation impacts at the already troublesome intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and Lake Village Drive and damaging cultural and historic values the property might hold for the Washoe Tribe.
The project went before TRPA in March, and until the day before the meeting, the agency’s staff was recommending conditioned approval. However, a Washoe grinding stone was found on the property, and TRPA’s board postponed its decision until another archeological study could be completed.
The consultant’s archeologist performed a second survey of the area, and the findings conflicted with research done by the tribe.
That conflict as well as skepticism about the developers ability to mitigate traffic problems created by the project facilitated TRPA staff to require the EIS. Borelli, who likely would have to spend as much as $100,000 for the year-long process of completing an EIS, is trying to appeal that decision Wednesday.
Attorney Larry Hoffman, who represents Borelli, said the Washoe cultural issues and the traffic concerns are not enough to warrant the EIS. The grinding stone would be preserved, he said, and research done for the Kingsbury Community Plan said there would be no traffic impact even for a 50-unit development.
Others, however, believe the various issues involved make the EIS necessary.
The Nevada Attorney General supports the decision for the environmental report.
“It is my understanding that the property is adjacent to a stream zone and the utmost care should be used in developing the property,” said William Frey, deputy attorney general. “Additionally, the development may violate both the Water Quality Management Plan and TRPA’s Code of Ordinances.”
Dave Roberts, assistant executive director of the League, agrees that the development – “no different from any subdivision you would find in Southern California” – conflicts with TRPA’s rules.
In regards to the EIS controversy, Roberts believes the developer long ago should have been asked to do more extensive environmental work than he originally was.
He said the EIS was the right decision, because the purpose of the documentation was to flush out the validity of various concerns.
“A project like this with a potential bad effect for Tahoe could be approved this Wednesday. That’s not appropriate,” he said. “It’s disturbing (the governing board is) potentially going to subvert the whole environmental documentation process, saying they can make a better decision than an EIS can.”
Douglas County approved the project last year, and the board of commissioners last week directed Commissioner Don Miner, their representative on TRPA’s board, to argue on Borelli’s behalf.
To the Friends of Burke Creek, Douglas County’s attempts to “railroad” the project through without listening to residents’ concerns are disturbing, said Michael Donahoe, a member of the coalition and Lake Village resident.
“(I’m investigating) to determine if this is legal,” Donahoe said in a letter to Douglas County Manager Dan Holler. “It certainly isn’t ethical. Nor democratic. It further erodes the trust of citizens in government and lends itself, at the very least, to the appearance of impropriety.”
Miner said the county wants the project approved because it is a legal use of the area, and if a development is to go there county officials want it to have as little an impact as possible. The 26-unit project with a restoration of Burke Creek as a part of it, Miner said, is better than a 50-unit project.
“We know he has a right to do the proposed project, as approved by TRPA. You take away that right, and there is a huge lawsuit TRPA will lose,” Miner said. “We’ve worked within the legal rights of the land, and (the developer) has been cooperative all the way through. It’s fallacy for anyone to say Douglas County is pushing this project, when we have in fact reduced it, and it will improve the environment.”
“If there’s going to be a project on that property, it should be low-impact. We believe we’ve been working to achieve that,” he added.
What: TRPA meeting
When: Wednesday, 11 a.m.
Where: Tahoe Seasons Resort, Saddle Road at Keller
Information: (775) 588-4547
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