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Lakeshore motif under scrutiny

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Two homes on either side of a complying home in the Round Hill Pines area.Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune
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Homes dominating the natural landscape of the lake will be an issue that takes center stage at a Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meeting Wednesday.

This meeting is likely to be as emotional as one held last month, which drew dozens of lakeshore homeowners. They spoke against the agency’s proposal to revamp a method used to determine how homes, and other structures, affect the scenic quality of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline.

A report released by the agency, the 2001 Threshold Evaluation, says scenic quality at the Lake Tahoe Basin, especially along the shoreline, is in decline and has been since 1991.



At a meeting last month, the Advisory Planning Commission, an arm of the TRPA which reviews proposals before they’re voted on by the governing board, asked staff to provide specific examples of how the new system would affect existing houses and future projects.

This week, staff is expected to present those examples and answer a number of questions asked by APC members and the public, such as: Why wouldn’t a larger section of a house be allowed to face the lake if the home is being built on a larger piece of property?



The agency’s answer, in part, has been to increase a proposed cap in the system to allow 3,300 square feet of a home, if screened sufficiently, to face the lake instead of 2,200, presented at last month’s meeting.

Jan Brisco, executive director at Tahoe Lakefront Owners’ Association, said despite the change, the people she represents still aren’t satisfied with the proposed system.

“It was 4,500 square feet,” Brisco said. “It’s a moving target. The only way to get to 3,300 is to get a perfect score in every category.”

The system aims to calculate visual magnitude of structure, or how much it contrasts with the natural landscape.

White paint and a shiny metal roof are the last things the TRPA wants to see. But if a home is painted an earthtone color, screened with vegetation, and architecturally designed to blend with the landscape, it will be easier to get a desired project approved.

“(The new system) is not really that different from what we’re already doing,” said Jill Keller, agency spokeswoman. “We’re taking a system that’s more subjective and making it quantifiable. People are scared, I don’t know how to explain it.

“Think of the millions of people who come here to see the clear water, trees, (and) natural landscape. That voice really hasn’t been well represented at the public meetings. In all the surveys, people say they prefer the natural beauty of Tahoe.”

Brisco said the system would create a disincentive for lakefront homeowners to work with the TRPA. That’s because it requires scenic improvements to existing homes before a project, such as a new garage or deck, can be permitted by the agency.

“An $11,000 deck repair might require a $30,000 roof job,” Brisco said. “Is that fair? That’s an example of how the system is inequitable.

“We’re not saying ‘Let’s have no system,’ we’re objecting to this system,” she said. “This system needs more work and more time. We’ve had this document for less than a month. They need to do a cumulative analysis on how many houses are in attainment and out of attainment.”

TRPA staff memberJohn Hitchcock has been working on revamping the scenic review system for about a year. He has run at least 10 public workshops to gather suggestions. Since the last APC meetings, Hitchcock has met with interested parties, as has Juan Palma, executive director of the agency.

“In 1991, the first threshold evaluation, it noted scenic degradation; a trend toward building bigger more contrasting shore structures affecting scenic quality,” Hitchcock said. “Business as usual is not working. Scenic is still declining.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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