Environment, tourists clash | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Environment, tourists clash

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

With large time shares and vacation home rentals dotting the basin, some would say there’s room for improvement in respect to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s view of transient occupancy.

The agency and its supporters say otherwise, claiming the progress made has been better for the environment.

It may come down to what side of the block an observer hails from.

The subjects of debate that represent the South Shore’s mainstay economy are scattered all over this tourism-driven region.

For time shares, the Marriott-anchored Park Avenue plaza brings more than 300 rooms to the basin in two hotels.

Another project, TrendWest, popped up in a lot across from Round Hill Square near Zephyr Cove.

One has been planned to go in across from Safeway near Bijou Community Center.

There’s a reason for the red carpet treatment for the quasi-ownership.

“Because of the concentration of the redevelopment area next to highways where existing services are we see it as something better,” TRPA spokeswoman Susanne Bentley said.

The urban centers — like those found in cities — get people out of their cars and on foot.

There’s yet another benefit.

The developer pays air quality fees to the counties around the lake — El Dorado, Douglas, Placer, Carson City and Washoe. Those funds, in turn, are earmarked for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly infrastructure projects that promote human power.

Time-share complexes have become more attractive to the basin because of their ability to generate quick cash flow and bring in destination visitors who are known to stay longer.

That’s the trend tourism officials and environmental advocates are seeking because it means fewer vehicles traveling around the basin emitting exhaust and creating lake pollutants.

“When fewer people stay longer, it’s good for the environment,” said Harold Singer, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control executive director.

Environmentally conscious agencies have sought that healthy balance between protecting the lake and appeasing the economic interests that rely on the stream of revenue more tourists bring to town.

“Clearly there’s a trend to bring tourists in to spend a longer period of time in the basin,” Singer said.

The trick lies with ensuring an equal number of units are built when old ones are taken away. And sometimes the town ends up with fewer rooms when the wrecking ball gives a run-down block a whole new look — as in redevelopment.

Singer cited the building of Embassy Suites about a decade ago. The addition of a large hotel near Stateline took out a cluster of motels like the Red Carpet Inn, thus reducing the number of units.

“From a total perspective there are fewer rooms. So (the larger operations) might actually help,” he said.

But improving the smaller properties may paint a different picture.

Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Executive Director Bill Chernock pointed out the financial burden and building restrictions as a bottleneck that stands in the way of upgrading properties that help the basin compete for visitor dollars. The restrictions create barriers for motels to compete in the leisure market.

“As to effectiveness, while virtually everyone agrees with the goals of TRPA, I think the same percentage of people would also agree that the agency has evolved into a nearly impenetrable mass of regulation that can keep effective solutions from happening,” Chernock said.

Moreover, the TRPA’s increasing critical eye on vacation home rentals in light of the lack of affordable housing in the basin has also caused dissent in the business community. This time, instead of contractors and motel owners, the objections are aired by real estate agents and property management firms which rent out these homes in residential neighborhoods.

The TRPA’s 1987 regional plan prohibits the rentals in areas not zoned for tourist accommodation units — mainly the Highway 50 corridor.

But once again — the economy weighs in.

The tourism dollars from the vacation home rental market generate $1.2 million for just South Lake Tahoe.

Opposing groups have cracked the door open in accepting room for disagreement and an acceptance level sufficient enough to bring the stakeholders to the negotiating table.

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