Final design for South Lake Tahoe rec center on hold pending VHR vote
The future of a new community recreation center in South Lake Tahoe is uncertain due to an anticipated ballot measure in November that could phase out hundreds of vacation home rentals in the city.
In November 2016, South Lake Tahoe voters passed Measure P, a citywide increase of the transient occupancy tax (TOT) by 2 percent with funds earmarked for a new recreation complex.
The measure, which raised the hotel tax to 12 percent in most of the city and 14 percent in the redevelopment area, was estimated to generate $2 million annually.
But with the threat of a November ballot measure that asks voters whether vacation rentals outside the tourist core — currently capped at 1,400 — should be phased out over a three-year period, the scope of the project is uncertain.
“The city is concerned about the upcoming ballot measure in November regarding vacation home rentals and it would not be prudent to move ahead with the existing plans without knowing the outcome of the pending ballot measure,” said Acting City Manager and Fire Chief Jeff Meston.
There are currently seven design options for the new rec center, which would replace the current 40-year-old building.
“The conceptual plans range in project cost from approximately $23 million to $37 million. The building square footage ranges from 65,000 to 85,000 depending upon concept,” explained Jim Marino, assistant director of South Lake Tahoe Public Works Department and the project manager. “To date, all alternatives are based on a complete tear down of the existing facility and construction of a new facility in the same area.”
The city’s plans incorporate an aquatics area, multi-level gymnasium, fitness areas, elevated track, multipurpose rooms, catering kitchen, and outside patio and gathering spaces.
The plans are scheduled to be presented to City Council in the next 60 days, but the final design is not expected to be chosen until after the anticipated vote on VHRs in November.
Since the tax increase, approximately $3.5 million in TOT and interest has accumulated in the restricted Measure P fund, according to Debbie McIntyre, South Lake Tahoe director of finance.
But should voters decide to phase out VHRs in residential areas, leaving around 400 VHRs in the city-zoned tourist core, that revenue could drop significantly.
Though City Council passed stricter VHR regulations, increased staffing and raised fines at the end of 2017, the group behind the measure, Tahoe Neighborhoods Group, says their ballot question will finally settle whether residents want VHRs in their neighborhoods or not. The group anticipates submitting the signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot to the city in the coming week.
The situation surrounding VHRs and future TOT is further complicated by a competing ballot measure that could also be on the November ballot. A petition is currently circulating that seeks to have residents vote on a different set of VHR regulations.
The measure proposes maintaining the 1,400 VHR-permit cap, but tightening occupancy limits and prohibiting people who were penalized for operating a VHR without a license from ever obtaining a VHR permit from the city. The measure also would create several bodies designed to provide additional information and oversight.
However, should the measure that seeks to phase VHRs out of neighborhoods pass, Marino said the Public Works Department would recommend a reduced scope of the rec center project.
“The basis for the project was/is to renovate or replace an aging facility with a myriad of existing equipment and building issues,” said Marino. “The final decision, however, would be up to the City Council from input [by] the Recreation Commission and staff.”