Planner talks of new look for city |

Planner talks of new look for city

Gregory Crofton

Within the 45 minutes of dry, technical phrases about urban planning, Paul Crawford hinted what South Shore could look like in the future.

It might not always be a strip of buildings without a real town center. Planners could change the rules to allow business, residential and recreational uses to blend with environmental protections and create areas that people want to experience.

The way building projects are planned at Tahoe will change as part of Pathway 2007, a multiagency effort to produce a 20-year growth plan for the basin, said Julie Regan, communications director for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Crawford, a planner from San Luis Obispo who spoke Wednesday at the TRPA to the Advisory Planning Commission, is an advocate of “formed-based” planning.

It takes into account how buildings relate to the street, how buildings relate to each other and how all that can be combined to create places that make people want to get out of their cars and walk.

“Most existing zoning regulations in the United States are primarily focused on keeping different types of land uses separated,” Crawford said. “Zoning codes in the past haven’t been written with any consideration for how buildings are designed in relation to one another.”

The Lake Tahoe Basin’s zoning system is not as rigid as what Crawford described, Regan said, but how things get planned and built in the basin needs to be more progressive.

“Things are not blending together, not pleasing to the eye, but yet it all meets code,” Regan said. “We want to look at more of a design-based approach than a land use-based approach.”

One of the goals for Pathway 2007 is to revamp the agency’s building codes to provide incentive for change.

“Tahoe has been very progressive in environmental planning yet the land use code hasn’t kept up with that progression,” Regan said. “The No.1 complaint I hear is that the code is too complicated, too difficult to figure out. The program hopefully we will adopt should fix these problems.”

Crawford owns a consulting firm that has revamped 35 general plans and 80 zoning codes. Most of the work was done for counties in California. Crawford does not claim to be an expert on Tahoe. He has visited the basin several times and driven around it some.

“I see a fair amount of 70s-sprawl architecture that could stand to be updated,” Crawford said.

But what about the challenge presented by the highway that runs through town?

“There are ways of taming highways that carry large volumes of traffic through places that are otherwise interesting,” said Crawford, who pointed to the Park Avenue redevelopment project as the type of project that’s needed.

Crawford’s presentation was well received by the Advisory Planning Commission, a mix of planners, engineers and scientists that will play a key role in selecting growth strategies for Pathway 2007.

“I hope we can all work toward taking the concept and making it possible,” said Alan Tolhurst, an architect from South Lake Tahoe who serves on the commission.

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

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