Scenic survey: nature preferable to development |

Scenic survey: nature preferable to development

Gregory Crofton

A survey to determine what type of development improves scenic quality along the shore and road corridors of the Lake Tahoe Basin found that scenic rules adopted by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency are in line with what the public wants to see: trees, not homes.

The findings were consistent with building regulations adopted in 2002 to address scenic degradation along the shore of the lake – in particular, to address the impact of the construction of large, very visible homes. The rules regulate things like how much of a new home can face the lake, how much glass can be incorporated into its design and what color it gets painted.

“There isn’t the polarization we all sensed in the beginning,” said Carl Petrich, a senior environmental planner at Logan Simpson Design Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., the firm that conducted the study. “We just aren’t seeing strong differences. (Respondents said) there is no reason structures can’t be built around the lake if they are designed appropriately.”

Nearly 500 of the 1,300 people who received a copy of the survey filled it out and returned it. Tourists accounted for 142 of the returned surveys. The second largest group of respondents was composed of lakefront property owners and Realtors, who turned in 141 surveys.

Properties that received the highest rating along the lakefront contain homes that are harder to see from the lake because they are screened with pine trees. The lowest-rated lakefront structures were white condominiums and houses with no screening. Highest-rated roadway images were also areas where nature (trees) overwhelmed development.

Some TRPA Governing Board members who listened to a presentation on the findings of the study Wednesday at Stateline wondered out loud about the use of black-and-white photos to evaluate scenic impact. Petrich said he has 35 years of experience in the field and that black and white is the best way to show contrast and evaluate visual perception.

Others on the Governing Board said they had a problem with the photos being taken from varying distances. Petrich said the varying distances in the more than 200 photos taken were necessary to exclude elements unrelated to the subject of the photograph.

Governing Board member Tom Davis, who is also serves as the mayor of South Lake Tahoe, was most critical of the $75,000 survey.

“I have a lot of issues, like the logic behind the distance,” Davis said. “But my main question is, ‘Where do we go with this survey? Is it to be part of a policy decision?’ “

The answer to that question is yes.

“We’re hoping to use the information as part of Pathway 2007 process,” said John Hitchcock, a scenic specialist at the TRPA. Pathway 2007 is the agency’s work program to adopt a new 20-year plan for the basin.

The recommendation to conduct the study came out of the 2001 Threshold Evaluation, an environmental report card for the basin compiled by the agency every five years. The threshold evaluation indicated that scenic quality was in decline in the basin and recommended the study as a way to determine what people think structures at Tahoe ought to look like.

Dean Heller, a Governing Board member who also serves as the secretary of state of Nevada, said the survey showed that the TRPA did the right thing in adopting its scenic ordinances.

“A few board members had some philosophical differences,” said Heller, about work done for the survey. “But those were the same board members who didn’t like the scenic ordinances to begin with. The survey reinforced the action taken by the board. The majority of the people who live at the lake, residents, seasonal residents or visitors, said they basically believe the scenic beauty of the lake is important.”

Drake DeLanoy clearly was one of the board members skeptical of the survey.

“Have you ever done a survey that wasn’t consistent with the people who hired you?” DeLanoy asked Petrich.

Petrich said he had, and that the survey involved a proposed nuclear power plant. Opinion he gathered on the possible aesthetic impacts of the plant resulted in officials deciding not to build it in the area.

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

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