Editorial: Flexibility with ‘coverage’ is a good thing
One of the most obvious ways to reduce the effects of development on the environment is to regulate and place limitations on coverage for construction. The practice has been employed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for decades in the Lake Tahoe Basin. And while the method achieves the end – less density in buildable areas and a reduction in total square feet of built area – the coverage rules could stand to be adjusted to allow more flexibility.
Building that flexibility into future Lake Tahoe development appears to be on the mind of a South Shore government watchdog group that appealed to El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago, who serves a dual role as TRPA Governing Board member, to emphasize the importance of the subject as a master plan is developed for TRPA going forward. The Pathway 2007 process, a series of public hearings to evaluate and determine TRPA policy for the next two decades, could lead to important changes to coverage rules, something the agency has already said will likely be part of the process.
The rules currently are too simplistic and don’t allow much flexibility case by case. The resulting development, especially of single-family homes, is an obviously generic cookie-cutter formula – the maximum size house that can cover 30 percent of a lot, repeated throughout town, the same for every lot. Certainly the crafters of the coverage rules did not anticipate that they would effectively be determining the future architecture of our town and the basin.
Also, calculating decks and other secondary structures as coverage without a case-by-case evaluation is also flawed. In some cases, the net benefit of a deck, for example, may exceed the net cost of a deck to the environment.
If in the future the rules for coverage give developers more flexibility, it is likely we would see more variety in the types of structures built, and thus a better architectural feel for our community. Also, a new approach to the issue should take into account height as well as footprint. If building a single-story structure on a bigger footprint can be done in a way that is environmentally sensitive, wouldn’t it benefit the community, in the long run, to achieve other scenic goals? And wouldn’t it make more sense to allow greater density in some areas if at the same time we can preserve the most sensitive land?
Now is the time, as the rules that govern the TRPA for the next 20 years are being developed, to look at the shortfalls of current policy on coverage and make reasonable changes. We all stand to benefit.
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