No easy fix for Harrison Avenue
Most business owners would probably agree that tidy landscaping and rustic alpine remodeling sounds like a pretty good idea, and it would probably boost business.
But take those ideas a few steps further into a deliberation process and things start getting frustratingly complicated.
For starters, agreeing on a plan that fits everyone’s needs and finding the money to fund it can halt even the most willing participants in a project. That’s about where Harrison Avenue property owners and the city are stuck right now in their efforts to implement TRPA-mandated improvements and not neglect their own financial and commercial needs.
To complicate matters, the options are limited and the leeway to make changes within the existing plans is slight, according to the property owners.
“We are not a designated redevelopment area,” said Sprouts Natural Foods Cafe owner Tyler Cannon. “They want us to pay for all these improvements – but it’s their project and it doesn’t include viable parking for us. Of course we’re going to have a hard time with it.”
But according to TRPA’s Gabby Barrett, chief of long-range planning, there is room for change within the plans.
“I think it’s entirely possible that they work this out,” Barrett said. “At our last meeting, in early February, I told the property owners that they had to put together a package that they were comfortable with, and that we would be flexible. If they don’t, then we will have to go with the parallel parking plan.”
The parallel parking plan is one of two improvement plans developed by the city.
Plan A includes an 8-foot landscape strip touching U.S. Highway 50, a 13-by-15-foot travel lane, 45-degree angled parking and a 7-foot sidewalk fronting the businesses. Plan A, which would have to be primarily funded by Harrison Avenue business owners, was rejected by the TRPA.
“TRPA didn’t like that plan,” said Mary Kay McLanahan, associate planner for the city. “They wanted to see a Class 1 bike trail linking El Dorado Beach and Los Angeles (Avenue) and that wasn’t included in the plan.”
Plan B would include 4 feet of landscape bordering U.S. Highway 50, an 8-foot Class 1 bike trail, more landscaping, a one-way 13-foot travel lane, 9 feet of parallel parking and a 7-foot sidewalk fronting the businesses. TRPA and the California Tahoe Conservancy would contribute financially to Plan B. But property owners say this plan leaves even less parking than Plan A.
“Property owners could not agree with several of the issues related to both plans. Among those was the lack of parking,” McLanahan said. “Now, after I give them some further plans, they are going to have to sit in a room and thrash it out on their own. Then they’ll come back to us and we’ll see if we can all live with it.”
Because of the limited parking space in both plans, business owners are now waiting for alternative back-street parking options from the city.
“The ball is in the city’s court now,” said John Cefalu who owns the Al Tahoe Laundromat property. “They need to provide alternatives for additional parking and we haven’t heard from them. After that, the property owners can meet so we can find a unified stance on this thing and move forward.”
Business owners would be responsible for the cost of re-routing traffic by creating one-way roads, or closing back streets, to provide additional parking space. They might even have to buy properties to create parking lots behind their businesses. Whatever the final solution, the price tag for property owners will be steep.
“We’re not against making Tahoe beautiful, we’re all for that,” Cannon said. “We just feel they’re looking at it with tunnel vision. Economically, for a few small businesses to bear the financial burden of a plan that will take away most of our parking, it just doesn’t make sense.”
However, property owner Cefalu remains positive, with an eye to the future.
“You have to remain optimistic. It will certainly improve the area,” Cefalu said. “I think there is a solution. It’s just a question of how it comes together.”
The Harrison Avenue improvements have been in the works for four years, as part of the Al Tahoe and Bijou Community Plan.
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