Governing Board asks TRPA to explain delays in processing applications
Charles Bluth says he’s never had to deal with as much red tape and convoluted rules in his 32 years as a builder as he has during his difficult interaction with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
In May of last year, Bluth applied for a permit to build his second home in Logan Shoals near Cave Rock, using more or less the same design and materials as in his previous home in Incline Village, which was constructed following TRPA guidelines. Sixteen months have gone by and his application is yet to be processed, much beyond the 120-day target the TRPA has set for itself.
Bluth says the delays have been caused by changing rules, inexperienced staff handling applications and having to redo most of the documentation that has already been approved by the agency in the past. He became so frustrated that he hired a consultant to deal with the TRPA.
“I think there is lack of leadership and delegation of authority,” said Bluth. ”You get different opinions. There isn’t a clear decision.”
On Wednesday, Bluth appeared before the TRPA Governing Board to voice his complaints. His appearance was timed to coincide with a meeting of the board, which, acting on unwritten complaints from the public, had asked the staff of the TRPA to explain why there were delays in processing applications.
Jim Galloway, a board member and Washoe County commissioner, said he had received complaints from his constituents about inordinate delays. Other board members echoed the same criticism.
In the TRPA staff’s defense were deputy chief Carl Hasty and Lyn Barnett, head of the project review division, who admitted that many projects had been delayed leading to a backlog of applications. Staffers from all departments had been pulled in to deal with the backlog, a decision that could delay the five-year environmental threshold report that is due in December.
“We are logjammed as never before,” admitted Barnett.
“It’s time for a process check,” said Hasty.
Currently, the TRPA has 441 applications pending review, 51 of which have been with the agency for more than 120 days. On an average, 10 percent of the applications are expedited, which means that the rest are delayed.
”What TRPA reviews is not normally found in the rest of the world,” said Barnett, adding that its multiple tasks made project reviews a difficult and time-consuming task.
”We have to make sure on every project that it is in keeping with the environmental thresholds. We are threshold-focused,” said Barnett.
Much of the delay is caused by incomplete applications, said Hasty, which increases workload by 30 percent. Also, the booming economy has led to a rise in the number of people wanting to build in Tahoe, though the staff at TRPA has remained the same.
Board members listened to the explanations, and some remained unconvinced.
”You have to perform when you are charging the extra fee,” said Galloway.
Duane Wallace, head of the South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, said he had received similar complaints about the TRPA.
Quoting a complainant, Wallace said, ”If the project is the fix, the process is the problem.”
Bluth, who is hoping to receive approval by the end of the year, was among the few people willing to offer comments. At least 11 other developers and homebuilders, mostly from the South Shore, refused to talk. Some of them expressed worries that speaking out would negatively affect their projects still pending with TRPA.
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