League sues TRPA over housing project
August 26, 2009
An access road through a controversial Stateline subdivision recently approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has come under attack by a Lake Tahoe Basin environmental group.
On Aug. 21, the League to Save Lake Tahoe filed suit in federal court against the TRPA and the developers of the Sierra Colina Village project to prevent construction of the 50-unit subdivision, which would be located off Lake Village Drive next to Kahle Park.
The TRPA approved the project amid protests from basin environmental groups who took issue with the development’s water filtration system, its construction on undeveloped land and the amount of land coverage allowed for the subdivision.
The planning agency’s attorney, Nicole Rinke, was served with documents regarding the suit during the TRPA’s monthly Governing Board meeting in Stateline on Wednesday morning.
TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta called the mid-meeting document service – an apparent first for the TRPA – “somewhat disheartening.”
“I believe that project served significant environmental goals,” Marchetta said as the documents were handed to Rinke.
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But the project’s approval will serve to further degrade the environmental health of the basin, according to the League.
Because the access road – which would be U-shaped and connect to Lake Village Drive on both ends – would be open to pedestrians, bicyclists and used for emergency access, TRPA designated it a “linear public facility.” Because of this designation, the road was not included in the project’s overall land coverage.
The finding is not an insignificant one, according to the suit.
“TRPA’s finding has tremendous legal implications because it allows the Sierra Colina Project to be approximately 16,500 square feet larger than the TRPA’s code and compact would otherwise allow,” according to the suit.
The League calls the designation “arbitrary,” “capricious” and “not supported by substantial evidence” and seeks in the lawsuit to remove the “linear public facility” designation for the project’s road.
Removal of the designation would reduce the scope of the more than 108,000-square-foot project by 16,500 square feet, according to the suit.
“Allowing this interpretation to stand could have dramatic implications throughout the Tahoe Basin because limiting land coverage is the primary means employed under the code and compact to protect the quality of Lake Tahoe’s waters,” the suit states.
But upholding the League’s challenge could be detrimental to Lake Tahoe in a much different way, TRPA spokesman Dennis Oliver said in a statement.
“This is part of an emerging pattern among Tahoe Basin conservation groups,” Oliver said. ” When they don’t get their way about something, they sue in order to take the decision-making out of the public realm and into a backroom where lawyers call the shots in secret.”
In November, the League challenged the TRPA’s approval a month earlier of shorezone ordinances regulating development of Lake Tahoe’s near shore area, including the construction of piers and placement of buoys on the lake.
The suit challenging Sierra Colina is the third lawsuit filed by the League against the TRPA in 15 years, according to League Executive Director Rochelle Nason’s calculations.