South Shore Estate issues coming to TRPA
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is no stranger to dealing with contentious issues with huge implications. However, the regulatory agency’s 15-member board also often has to sort through various opinions and decide whether certain projects should be built in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The latest project with a significant amount of hullabaloo surrounding it deals with a proposed condominium development in Douglas County, a creek in need of restoration, an area considered special by the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and a newly formed coalition of people trying to fight the proposal.
The project, South Shore Estates, would involve building 26 detached, two-story, multi-family residences in an area near Kahle Park, Lake Village and the Old Nugget Building that houses Stateline’s Burger King.
The developer would restore the nearby Burke Creek. However, a group of people called Friends of Burke Creek have been fighting the project, believing that – among other concerns – the creek restoration would be inadequate.
“If you go down to Burke Creek, it is full of gunk,” said Michael Donahoe, who lives in the nearby Lake Village and is a member of the group. “It is full of algae. (Restoration projects on the lake side of the highway) have not changed that to a significant level. We need to concentrate above the highway. Putting in a development near Burke Creek is going in the wrong direction.”
Others such as Douglas County commissioners – who approved an earlier version of the project in 1998 – believe the benefits the project brings with it are substantial.
“There could be significant environmental benefits brought to the site: restoration to the streamzone, improving for erosion control so the sediment doesn’t wash down into Burke Creek,” said Don Miner, a Douglas commissioner and the county’s representative on TRPA’s board.
n TRPA meeting
The issue is not new, but it likely will be coming to a head within the next few months. It was scheduled to go before the board for approval this month, but now a seemingly last-minute decision by TRPA to require an Environmental Impact Statement for the project has drawn mixed reactions.
County officials and the developer are confused by the agency’s action. Friends of Burke Creek is pleased.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been really asking for,” Donahoe said. “There’s no way to evaluate the full environmental impact without doing a full EIS. We’re glad TRPA decided to do that.”
The developer has appealed the decision, and that issue will be addressed by the board in August. The EIS could cost up to $100,000 and take as long as a year.
Miner has requested that the agency discuss the issue at the July 28 meeting. It has been placed on the meeting agenda, but the board will not be able to take action then.
Douglas County manager Dan Holler described the request as a “stalling act by (TRPA) staff and not a viable reason for the EIS.”
“As this appeal goes forward … it will have our full support to overturn the staff decision regarding the EIS requirement,” Holler said.
n Project issues
James Borelli, the developer, first proposed the project in late 1997 as a 44-unit development. The allowable density on that 18-acre parcel of land would allow him to build more than 50 units, but Borelli has since changed the plans to 26 to help appease the upset neighbors.
The Friends of Burke Creek – a loose coalition of about 40 people – has concerns about the creek’s health, disturbing wildlife habitat in the area, the transportation impacts at the already troublesome intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and Lake Village Drive and damaging cultural and historic values the property might hold for the Washoe Tribe.
Borelli believes he has addressed their concerns.
“I have tried to listen to their concerns. I’m looking for good ideas no matter where I get them. On the other hand, this is not a decision by committee,” he said. “I tried to use their ideas as much as I could. But I’m kind of getting the feeling no matter what I do it’s not going to be enough. They would just prefer the project not be built. There’s nothing I can do to change that.”
As part of the project, Borelli said he will restore a section of Burke Creek. Afterward, he said he will sell that 5-acre portion of the property to the U.S. Forest Service.
Additionally, he said he is willing to address the traffic concern by adding a center lane to Highway 50 at the intersection, which would allow people making a left turn to worry only about traffic coming from one direction.
Currently the intersection is rated “F” by transportation officials. It doesn’t mean failing, but it is the worst rating possible.
Borelli said the middle acceleration lane would more than mitigate the traffic impacts his development will have.
“As a developer, I am more than happy to bring these things to the table. There are a number of positive components to this project,” Borelli said.
“Projects like this are a good opportunity for implementing environmental improvement programs such as the Burke Creek restoration – to get the work done with private funds instead of the money coming out of tax payer’s pockets,” he added.
n Cultural significance
Additionally, Borelli said he has followed the proper procedure for having the site studied for its cultural values. However, the Washoe Tribe disagrees about his consultant’s findings.
The project went before TRPA in March, and until the day before the meeting, the agency’s staff was recommending approval. However, opponents went onto the property – without permission, Borelli said – and found a Washoe grinding stone. After it was presented to the tribe and TRPA, the agency’s governing board postponed its decision until another archeological study could be completed.
Borelli has had that done, and the consultant found – besides the one stone – nothing else of significance.
The Washoe Tribe doesn’t agree, because tribal members look at the 18-acre parcel as part of a larger one, which includes the meadow on the other side of the highway, considered special to the tribe.
“There is a professional difference of opinion regarding the historic significance of the project site,” Timothy Seward, legal counsel for the tribe, wrote in a letter to TRPA. “While (the consultant) acknowledges the existence of prehistoric elements, they are not convinced of their significance. On the other hand, Washoe experts … identified additional Washoe features and concluded that they must be viewed in relationship to the significant Washoe (which encompasses the area).”
n TRPA’s decision
Based on the conflicting opinions and questions about whether the center lane could be added to the highway, TRPA last week had to require the EIS, said Jerry Wells, deputy director of the agency.
“In order for us to continue without an EIS, we would have to make a finding of no impact. With that information, we can’t make that finding,” Wells said. “When you get to the point where there could be an impact – it doesn’t mean there will be; it just means there could be – we can’t go forward without the proper environmental documentation.”
What: TRPA meeting
When: July 28, 9:30 a.m.
Where: North Tahoe Conference Center, 8318 North Lake Blvd., Kings Beach
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