Scenic threshold workshop dominates TRPA meeting |

Scenic threshold workshop dominates TRPA meeting

The goal seems simple: balance new home development with the environment.

But for the past eight months, nailing down the details has been slicker than oil from a two-stroke engine.

So when the question arose Wednesday at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meeting of the governing board — how to create a balance — there were more questions than answers as the board wrestled with rules that would change how a lakeshore home is built and how many homes can be built annually at Lake Tahoe Basin.

A workshop scheduled for 90 minutes extended to four hours, as the board listened to staff, scenic experts and residents speak about ways to make a home blend into the natural landscape.

The board was expected to zip through the workshop and then vote on a proposal to link the amount of building allowed each year at the basin to environmental projects. But the building proposal wasn’t heard until 4 p.m. and became only a presentation before the board.

Both regulation changes, which the board is now expected to vote on in October, spilled out of the 2001 Threshold Evaluation, an environmental progress report compiled by TRPA staff every five years.

It stated that homes within 300 feet of the lake, many which are small structures torn down and rebuilt larger, are beginning to dominate the natural landscape.

To fix the problem, staff is proposing to tie each home to a rating system that could limit how much of the structure is allowed to face the lake. The rating, among other things, is based on the color of paint used, the number of windows planned and how reflective roofs would be.

Staff calls the amount of a house that faces the lake its “visual magnitude,” which has become a focus for Realtors, homeowners and others who oppose the system.

“Our group from day one hasn’t said ‘Don’t do anything,'” said Chuck Otto, a resident of Incline Village, an area with dozens of lakeshore homes, and member of the Committee for Reasonable Regulation of Lake Tahoe. “But taking of view or further restrictions on size and mass we oppose.”

The answer is somewhere in the middle, Otto said, and it involves painting a house a dark color, using less reflective glass, but should not involve reducing the size of a home or blocking a view of the lake with a tree.

Staff countered saying trees are not meant to block views of the lake, but instead break up the mass of a house as viewed from the lake.

Stephen Sheppard, an environmental planner at University of California, Berkeley, and a man who helped craft TRPA scenic guidelines in 1982, also tried to explain the proposed changes to the system.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘screening,’ ” Sheppard said. “I’d say tree framing, or tree filtering. We’re not trying to hide houses, just break up the mass.”

The Threshold Evaluation also called to speed up the Environmental Improvement Program, an initiative created in 1997 to get erosion control projects on the ground to preserve the clarity of the lake.

Staff responded to that finding by proposing to tie environmental projects in each of the five jurisdictions at the lake to the amount of home construction allowed each year. Representatives of the jurisdictions say the number of homes that can be built in each jurisdiction should not be tied to environmental projects that are paid for and controlled by state and federal government.

The scenic changes and the proposal to link building more closely to environmental work were voted on and approved by the Advisory Planning Commission during the last two months. It is an arm of the TRPA that reviews projects before they are heard by the Governing Board.

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