Permits sought from TRPA |

Permits sought from TRPA

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A record number of project applications, 143, spilled onto the desks of staff at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in April.

May’s numbers will likely end up below last year’s, but in general the number of applications delivered to the agency continues to rise while its staff remains the same size.

The steady increase in the number of applications can be attributed to the boom in the real estate market and the increasing complexity of projects at the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The planning for construction projects is becoming more complicated because there is less vacant land in the basin. Projects today often require the transfer of building rights between properties, which means a need for multiple permits, said Lyn Barnett, chief of the TRPA Project Review Division.

At the end of April, Barnett’s division was working on 35 applications that had exceeded the agency’s goal for its review to take no longer than 120 days. The lag time can be attributed in part to inspection delays caused by late season snows, but changes are being made in an effort to eliminate the perpetual backlog of work.

The changes include a committee to advise applicants before they begin an application for large projects; assigning a senior planner to the front counter of the TRPA; contracting out the review of less complicated projects; and hiring a receptionist to handle a flood of project specific questions.

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“We’ve actually increased productivity quite a bit,” said Barnett, who reported proudly that 117 permits went out the door in April.

The agency also is in the process of having an outside firm redesign its application packet. It can be unclear and doesn’t include the latest policy changes, Barnett said. Twenty percent of the application packets delivered are incomplete. As of May, the TRPA had received 569 applications, more than 150 of which are incomplete.

“They can be excavating more than 5 feet and didn’t tell us,” Barnett said. “We find out they are excavating 10 feet and now they have to get a graduated hydrology report.”

Barnett said he hopes the new application packets, due by the end of the summer, will reduce the number of incomplete applications to 5 percent. He said the improvement would be like adding an employee to his staff.

Most contractors at Lake Tahoe Basin, if not all, view the TRPA permitting process as being nothing but a pain in neck.

Kristi, a plumbing contractor at South Lake Tahoe for 10 years who refused to give her last name because she fears permits for her projects would suffer from lack of attention, said the TRPA review process costs her money.

“It just adds some more mishap to the pieces of a puzzle we already can’t deal with,” Kristi said.

Not knowing when a permit will be approved wreaks havoc on the contract bids.

“We’re bound to contract prices, the bills go up and we make no money,” Kristi said.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at