Redevelopment may move over state line
The concept of redevelopment as a tool for economic revitalization on the South Shore appears to be creeping farther over the state line.
Douglas County officials are beginning to explore the idea of creating their own redevelopment agency, with hopes of offering an improved tourism product and at the same time provide environmental and housing benefits at Lake Tahoe.
“We must increase the visual benefits and environmental needs within the basin, which in my view can only be accomplished through prompt implementation of major projects,” said Commissioner Don Miner. “For it is only major projects that will bring forward the desired environmental improvements.”
The issue will come before the board June 12, when it meets in Stateline. Community Development staff will make a presentation at the public workshop to introduce the topic of redevelopment and gauge the board’s desire for forming an agency, said Keith Ruben, senior planner.
The county has already set aside $130,000 in its 1997-98 planning department budget to cover initial studies and start-up costs, should an agency become a reality.
Discussion surrounding redevelopment in Douglas County comes in the midst of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment effort in California, which will ultimately revamp the entire U.S. Highway 50 corridor from Ski Run Boulevard to the state line.
The city’s project at Ski Run is nearing completion, and its Park Avenue effort – the highlight of which is a gondola from Heavenly Ski Resort to the casino core – is expected to break ground by this time next year.
“What is happening now in South Lake Tahoe does nothing but even further justify that redevelopment can be a great tool for the Nevada side,” said John Doughty, Douglas County planning and economic development manager. “We are looking to bring the Lake Tahoe portion of Douglas County into the 20th century.”
Tahoe Village, Kingsbury target areas
Doughty, who has been working with his staff for the past few months to research the idea, said there are a few target areas in Douglas County both within and outside of the basin that could benefit from redevelopment.
Those that have been identified as potential candidates include Tahoe Village – a subdivision that sits on the ridge of the basin and the valley, commercial areas along Kingsbury Grade, the land adjacent to the County Administration Building in Stateline and Round Hill.
These are areas that may contain “blight,” which could be inadequate infrastructure, houses that are too close together, problems due to poor previous planning, or vacant land that is underutilized, Ruben said.
If the process were to move forward, Ruben said a private consulting firm would likely be contracted to study the areas and help draw the redevelopment boundaries.
Commissioner Miner, who represents Tahoe on the board, is clearly supportive of exploring benefits that could come with redevelopment.
“The areas we may be considering have storm water and drainage issues,” he said. “If you bring in a new project, it’s going to bring with it sidewalks, detention basins and wetland areas to prevent runoff into Lake Tahoe.”
Miner said the county could never complete those major environmental protection measures on its own.
“Redevelopment is another way to achieve improvements to the quality of your product, as well as improvements to the environment,” he said.
Miner has many ideas about what the Nevada side of the South Shore could eventually look like after redevelopment.
“In 10 years I could see Tahoe Village becoming a modernized Vail (Colo.),” he said. “The tourist would have easier access into the village. They could park their car for the week and use public transit, including high-speed gondolas to the top of the mountain or the casinos, so they could fully enjoy the benefit of Lake Tahoe without having to drive their cars.”
Another long-term idea is a gondola linking the Carson Valley to the Nevada side of Heavenly, Miner said.
“A gondola on the other side of the mountain gives the residents in the Carson Valley who work at the lake a means of transit via high-speed gondola, as well as giving tourists another exciting thing to do while at Tahoe,” he said.
However, this vision has potential to cause some conflicts between the two jurisdictions sharing the South Shore, particularly because of the city’s $200 million Park Avenue Redevelopment Project – also characterized as the next “Vail.”
Kerry Miller, city manager, said although he has heard only rumors about possible future projects in Douglas County, his initial reaction is one of confusion.
“I guess I am mystified about another effort going on to duplicate the effort on the California side,” he said.
But Miner said he fully values major partnerships and would look to the adjoining counties and city to work collaboratively on any development plan.
“This is not in competition, it’s the survival of the entire region that’s at stake,” he said. “There is no question in my mind that in order to both expand the tourism economy and diversify our economy, we must provide major upgrades to our tourism product and allow businesses to compete and grow.”
Affordable housing an issue
In addition to turning Douglas County areas into “premier resort communities,” Ruben and Doughty said they would hope a major goal of a redevelopment agency would be to improve and increase the county’s stock of affordable housing.
“Staff would recommend, if the board formed an agency, that a certain percentage of funds would go to assisting redeveloping or building new affordable housing,” Doughty said. “One of the goals clearly has to be affordable housing in the basin.”
Redevelopment agencies often use eminent domain to demolish structures considered to be a blight to the area, but they must also take on the task of relocating people and providing additional affordable housing in the same area.
The Tahoe Village area at the top of Kingsbury is one of a few neighborhoods on the Nevada side that offers low-income housing.
“I don’t believe it’s the desire of anyone to displace all that low-income housing,” Doughty said. “Really it’s to enhance that, and provide better quality of housing.”
Affected areas supportive
Miner said the general concept has gone over well with most everyone involved.
“The issue of redevelopment has been quite eagerly and warmly received by local businesses, by potential new businesses and existing homeowner associations,” he said.
Carolyn Treanor, general manager of the Tahoe Village Homeowners Association, backed up that statement.
“Tahoe Village agrees in concept with the idea, and wishes to investigate further the opportunities of a redevelopment project within the village boundaries,” she said.
Candi Rohr, general manager of the Kingsbury General Improvement District, said as far as she knows, KGID would be involved in projects to the extent that it maintains roads and provides water and sewer service to the potential redevelopment areas.
“We are certainly prepared to support the county program in any way we can with the services we provide,” she said.
Many challenges exist
Still, a massive redevelopment effort may be particularly difficult to pull off in Douglas County for a number of reasons, including its multiple taxing districts, lack of many public-private partnerships in the past and the fact that it is a very small county in population.
But Doughty and Ruben said they are willing to give it a try if commissioners and the community are also willing.
“This is a major step, but if you don’t do this, what can you do?” Doughty said. “We need to have a concerted effort for economic revitalization, and redevelopment is one of the major tools to accomplish that.”
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